Devil’s night October 30 : What’s the origin of the night before Halloween?

Filed in Gather News Channel by on October 30, 2010 0 Comments

Devil’s night or mischief night as it is known in the US has become well known as a night that teenagers and some adults egg houses, smash pumpkins and get up to general mayhem. 

Devil’s night has been around  for at least 50 years,  but the practice goes back hundreds of years to a time when Halloween and misbehavior were intertwined. Devil’s night became a day for playing “tricks” while Halloween itself was reserved for children to gather “treats.”

In some areas, unfortunately, today’s pranks have evolved into acts much scarier than anyone expected. For example, in Detroit Devil’s night is known for it’s link to gang activity. In one year alone, Detroit had over 800 fires that were set on Devil’s night.

Before  the turn of the 20th century, Halloween mischief in the United States and Canada happened on Oct. 31 and mainly consisted of tipping over outhouses, unhinging farmer’s gates and throwing eggs at houses. By the 1920s and 30s, however, the celebrations had become more like a rowdy block party, and the acts of vandalism more serious, probably instigated by tensions over the Great Depression and the threat of war, according to historians.

To stop the vandalism, concerned parents and town leaders tried to bribe the kids with candy, encouraging the forgotten tradition of trick-or-treating in costume in exchange for sweets. The kids then bumped back the Devil’s night to Oct. 30 as their day to pull pranks.

Currently, Devil’s night is especially popular in the northeastern United States but not in the South and West and in the English-speaking communities of Canada but not the French speaking communities. Examples of regional pranks include:

  • Cabbage Night in parts of the northeastern United States, where rotten vegetables are collected and left on porch stoops or smeared on doors and windows.
  • Mat Night in English-speaking Quebec, where pranksters steal doormats and switch them with the neighbors’.
  • Gate Night, in the Midwest, where farmers gates are opened, leaving livestock to roam free.

Have you been a victim of the Devil’s night pranks? As more and more kids go to Halloween parties, maybe the mischief element that is associated with Halloween will slowly go into remission and people can get back to enjoying the fun and sometimes scary Halloween traditions.

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