Devil's Night, Mischief Night, Or Cabbage Night: What Do You Call The Night Before Halloween?
Mischief Night, Cabbage Night, the pre-Halloween candy fast---depending on where you grew up, you not only called the night before Halloween something different, but it had a meaning that was entirely foreign to the rest of the country. Before Halloween became prevalent in the 20th century, towns were beseeched with teens causing mischief of all kinds. They egged houses, tipped over outhouses, and got all sorts of rowdy. Things got so out of hand that people began plying the children with candy in order to chill everyone out. While most areas across the country have no particular name for the day before October 31, there are a few places that hold Halloween Eve as a special holiday all its own.
Mischief goes part and parcel with Halloween. People dress up, they put on masks, and they bang on their neighbor's doors in search of sweets. In New Jersey, however, the night before Halloween is special. Known as Mischief Night, no one is entirely sure when this celebration got its start in the US, but its earliest recorded usage was in Oxford, England in 1790. It shows up again in the Victorian era as a pre--May Day celebration in which young people pranked one another by locking each other in their houses, switching out street signs, and just generally acting the fool.
In America, Mischief Night mostly likely began in the depths of the Great Depression, prior to the onset of World War II. It was an era of major anxiety, and people just needed to let off some steam. Whether the people of New Jersey got together and decided to wreck shop on their neighborhoods or something more organic occurred remains a mystery, but either way, kids went out and threw firecrackers at cars, egged houses, and got up to nothing but trouble. In 1937, The Daily Boston Globe reported that young people were "ringing false alarms, setting fires, breaking windows, and in general doing their best to annoy people" on October 30. They even took part in the "Battle of the Charles," throwing fruit and vegetables at one another. Sounds fun.
Ah, yes, the night before Halloween, when children go from door to door and stuff as much boiled cabbage as they can in their "cab sacks."
Okay, that's not what actually happens on Cabbage Night. In fact, it's not entirely clear where Cabbage Night takes place. Some sources claim that it occurs in Cincinnati, while NJ.com reports that it's most prevalent in Paramus, an area with a large Dutch population. Whatever the case, Cabbage Night came from the custom among young Scottish women of examining cabbages pulled from their neighbor's garden on the night before Halloween to see what their future husbands would look like. Once they performed this bit of witchcraft, the girls threw the cabbage against their neighbor's door and ran away, marking the beginnings of many a pre-Halloween prank.
Supposedly, the kids in Paramus still call this prank night "Cabbage Night," but rather than using local coleslaw, they use eggs, shaving creams, and toilet paper. Kids these days have no respect for tradition.
The most insidious of pre-Halloween celebrations is Devil's Night, which takes place in Detroit every year. Rather than egg houses and toilet paper trees, vandals set fire to the thousands of abandoned buildings in the area, something that authorities have long been trying to shut down. The New York Times reports that in 1984, officials recorded 810 fires in Detroit, which is when the city started bringing municipal workers together to patrol the night in an attempt to quell the number of blazes across the city. Things got so bad in 1990 that the city of Detroit declared a curfew for those under the age of 18 from 6:00 P.M. to 6:00 A.M. on the three nights preceding Halloween.
This is where things get ... goosey. If you've never heard of Goosey Night, then you're in the majority of Americans. This pre-Halloween night of chicanery allegedly occurs in western Bergen County and Passaic County, and locals believe that the term comes from a letter written to parents in the area by Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin Fox. "Goosey" apparently means "flighty" or "irresponsible," which is why kids go out and cause mischief on this night in New Jersey. It likely has a lot of crossover with any wild Cabbage Nights that are occurring in the area.
Mat Night, Gate Night, and Devil's Eye, oh my
So bizarre are these disparities that the Harvard University Linguistics Department has investigated these specific nights, and they found that even smaller pockets of the country have their own pre-Halloween rituals. For instance, Washington State calls October 30 "Devil's Eye," while English-speaking Quebec celebrates "Mat Night" by stealing their neighbors’ doormats and swapping them around. There’s also "Gate Night," when local farmers' gates are left open so their livestock can roam free. Not everyone knows how to party like Quebec.
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