originally published October 30, 2013
Tomorrow night your little angel may be hitting the streets, going door to door to beg for candy like a gin-soaked hobo with nothing left to lose but his last shred of dignity and the Tinky-Winky costume his mother had bought him. But tonight your angel’s older brother or sister could be up to something decidedly more sinister. Tonight they might be dancing on the dark side of the law.
The ‘trick’ side of trick-or-treating gets very little attention these days. Buying bulk boxes of mini candy bars and quietly judging the quality of each little kid’s costume as they come to the door is practically routine. Once when I was indulging in the ritual as a child someone asked me to sing a song. I’ll never forget, this guy wouldn’t give up the goods without being entertained. I was offended. Fortunately I was also unusually formidable when it came to belting the German rap verses of “Rock Me Amadeus.”
So where were the TP’ed trees and egg-stained houses of my childhood? Was it strange that I never felt a tremendous urge to deface some stranger’s property? Sure, I probably would have splattered my rebellious mark upon one or two walls had I anything resembling talent with a spray paint can. But that yen to inflict senseless damage simply wasn’t there.
Well, I shouldn’t imply that it was never there. I oozed a bit of irresponsible behavior in my day. But there was never a calendar-designated reason for it. If only I had been told of the wonders of Mischief Night.
October 30 is traditionally the night when people – pre-teens, teenagers, and a few fully-grown maturity-stunted douchebags – set out to play pranks upon those silly fools who were foolish enough to purchase property in their neighborhood. This takes place all over the US, Canada and England, which makes it all the more strange that I never knew about it until now.
The tradition dates back to 1790 in Ye Olde Englande, when an Oxford headmaster encouraged an ‘Ode to Fun’, or quite simply for kids to go out and commit pranks. Back then Mischief Night took place the day before May Day, but as the Industrial Revolution scooted everyone into the city, the day shifted to November 4, the day before Guy Fawkes Day.
The evolution of Mischief Night into an October 30th routine was slow and sporadic over the mid-20th century. But the menu of ridiculous behavior remained fairly consistent: pranks that would annoy the adults, force the adults to undergo some laborious cleaning tasks, but wouldn’t cause any substantial damage. Eggs would thwack against houses. Cars would find their windshields sudsed up with the residue of an Ivory bar. Toilet paper would hang from trees like two-ply garland, like kids had been expressing themselves by littering upwards.
In parts of New Jersey and New York state, the night is known as Goosey Night. Not sure why – the Urban Dictionary lists ‘goosey’ as another word for ‘vagina’. Places like Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, and various towns in upstate New York know it as Gate Night. Again, no explanation here, though I suspect a particularly rash series of pranks might end up being known locally as ‘Mischiefgate’.
In western Pennsylvania they call it Devil’s Night. In Yorkshire, where they still honor the pre-Fawkes calm of November 4, they call it Miggy Night, Tick-Tack Night, Corn Night, Trick Night and Micky Night. Honestly, I don’t know how people in Yorkshire even communicate if they can’t get the name of a day straight. In various locales in the Northeastern United States – Boston, Newport, and all over New England – the night is called Cabbage Night. In Niagara Falls it was once tradition to snoop through local gardens for leftover rotting cabbages, then to throw their stink at cars, buildings and probably pedestrians.
Apart from the indiscretions mentioned above, there are plenty of ways to rock Mischief Night like a pro. You could smash your neighbors’ pumpkins, even though it’s a totally dickish thing to do right before the one night in which the things are useful for anything other than pie. Ring a doorbell and run away, even though it’s probably the most asinine prank ever conceived. Think about it – you ring a doorbell then sprint down the steps, out to the street and down the block, leaving you out of breath. Your ‘victim’ has had to get up out of their chair, saunter over to the door, open it, deduce that no one is there and return to their chair. They’ve been inconvenienced for eight or nine seconds and you’re winded, hiding behind some tree.
More clever pranksters will stick a pin in the doorbell button so that it keeps ringing non-stop. You’re still only inconveniencing your mark for a few seconds, but those few seconds will be bodaciously unpleasant. Some kids set off fireworks on Mischief Night. Some throw eggs injected with Neet or Nair at people.
Dear god, would this work? If a person got smacked with a Nair-egg, just how bald would they be? Looks I should wear my Halloween costume of Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad in his puffed-up Hazmat suit all week, just in case.
Sometimes the pranks get out of hand, which is why many grocery and convenience stores will be stashing their eggs and toilet paper behind the counter this week, or refusing to sell them to anyone under 18. In the mid-1980s pranks escalated to vandalism and even to arson in some cities. Garbage bags and cemeteries were set on fire. In Camden, New Jersey, over 130 instances of arson were committed on one Mischief Night in 1991.
Detroit was unsurprisingly also among the cities where Mischief Night spiraled out of control. This led to the creation of Angels Night, in which concerned citizens – as many as 40,000 of them – patrol the streets between October 29 and 31, looking to scare off would-be pranksters.
So keep your eyes open tonight. And if you’re among the age demographic who will feel pressured to unleash your inner Devil or Miggy or Tick-Tack, have fun with it. Plot out your exit strategy and be prepared for your victim to chase you. So long as you aren’t doing anything more harmful than splattering yokes or giving tree-bound birds something to wipe with, getting caught won’t be too bad.
Just stay the hell away from my house.