(WHTM) — In most of the country, the night before Halloween has no name. In parts of eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, however, Halloween Eve comes with not only a name but a history.
It’s called “Mischief Night.” The tradition refers to the eve of Halloween in which children and teenagers celebrate the holiday one night early with pranks, tricks, and sometimes vandalism.
According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Dictionary of American Regional English, there have been several mentions of Mischief Night in Pennsylvania’s local media throughout the last century.
The dictionary references one Chester Times report from October 31, 1924, in which the paper reported on the mischief that occurred the night before.
“It is not on the calendar of special occasions, but last night was so designated by hundreds of youngsters in the lower wards of the city, who staged a premature Halloween celebration. . . Several signs were removed last night, discarded autos placed on trolley tracks and many a housewife answered a knock at the door last night only to find that she had been fooled,” the dictionary quotes.Chester Times, 1924
The next Pennsylvania record that the dictionary lists is a November 1, 1947, report from the Pottstown Mercury in which the paper reported that local teens were “worn out” from their Mischief Night shenanigans.
“Apparently worn out by their efforts on Mischief Night, Pottstown’s youngsters spent their energies in begging for cookies and nuts at front doors, and attending parties.”Pottstown Mercury, 1947
The dictionary also references an October 31, 1969, Bucks County Courier Times article, describing the kinds of pranks that happened on that year’s Mischief Night.
“Last night was mischief night and most local police departments report a fairly mild evening of the usual pranks—soaped windows, smoke bombs and egg throwing.”Bucks Co. Courier Times, 1969
The dictionary also includes a quote from Doylestown’s Intelligencer from October 30, 1998, in which the paper reported that local law enforcement warned stores not to sell eggs to minors.
“Police have asked stores to prohibit the sale of eggs to minors in anticipation of Mischief Night, the night before Halloween, which has traditionally been a night of vandalism and arson in the city.”The Intelligencer, 1998
But while Mischief Night may be a historic precursor to Halloween in parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, most Americans have no name for the date. Moreover, those who do have a name for Halloween Eve often call it something else.
In 2003, Mischief Night was included in a Harvard Dialect Survey. The question was “What do you call the night before Halloween?”
There were 10,640 responses to the survey and about 70% reported having no word for October 30. About 10% reported referring to the evening as Mischief Night, with respondents mainly located in the eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey region.
Eleven percent of respondents reported that they call the date “Devil’s Night” with many of the responses coming from Michigan, as well as various other states.
The next most common name for October 30 was “Cabbage Night.” This name, used by 1.6% of survey participants, was most popular in New England.
While responses to the survey were divided and few, they did include several other interesting names. They included “Gate Night,” “Trick Night,” “Goosey Night,” and “Devil’s Eve.”