Many states do not have a concrete name for the night before Halloween but others such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey are bracing for their annual Mischief Night. This is the time when petty vandalism or the trick portion of the season takes precedence with acts such as egging cars, smashing pumpkins and toilet-papering houses. Mischief Night is like a daylong assault on the neighborhood.
Mischief Night is considered an informal holiday for many teens who could not care less about the actual Halloween holiday, instead they are excited to engage in minor vandalism and pranks. The name of this pre-Halloween occurrence varies from place to place but generally takes place the night before. Typically the goal is for harmless or “innocent” mischief even though this often contributes to the source of other problems or leads to serious trouble for participants.
In addition to the acts mentioned above teens are known to fork yards, write on windows with soap, egg people and homes as well as powder bomb houses and buildings. Sometimes these pranksters even go so far as to spray-paint homes or buildings and set off fireworks. However, there are also the less destructive events such as ringing doorbells or knocking on doors and running before running away.
Mischief Night is discouraged by law enforcement with some towns having a zero tolerance policy for this annual night of trickery. In many localities neighborhood grocery stores refuse to sell eggs to youngsters during the Halloween season.
Many wonder where the idea came from. Some have said it was the older kid’s way of leaving Halloween for the younger children so they can receive their candy and show off their costumes without having to dodge eggs or get spooked out by all of the tricks. Others believe these pranksters simply want to ruin everyone’s decorations as an act of cruelty.
Back in the day Mischief Night was the reason for Halloween. The Celtic New Year was held on November 1st and it was believed that spirits would “sort of” play tricks on the living the night before. As that region transitioned to more of a Christian flavor they tried to stop the practice but instead it survived several transitions including All Saints Day; it is still alive and well today.
In the 17th and 18th centuries Scottish and Irish immigrants brought the holiday to America with them and it thrived as a day for people to play pranks on each other. The acts of trickery did not grow harmful in nature until after the Depression hit as tensions skyrocketed. This is when town heads began throwing candy at the kids to make them stop vandalizing and Halloween became the day of “treats” is now known for.
Candy did not make decisive inroads into the Halloween season until the 1950s. The theme trick-or-treating became the perfect occasion for marketing something so sweet to connect fun and children. Candy was not only easy for people to purchase due to its low-cost, it was also easy to distribute. As the number of participants grew candy manufacturers started making small bags of candy corn and smaller candy bars. Now Americans spend an estimated $2 billion on candy during the Halloween season.
As children transitioned into teenagers they no longer found the same thrill going out and knocking on doors for treats. Mischief Night was reinstated as way to bring remembrance to what the holiday is “supposed” to be about, pulling pranks on unsuspecting people. For many teens it is all about fun and games but is some states the fun is cut short due to curfews that have been established to eliminate the vandalism aspect which seems to dominate the pre-Halloween festivities.
Locals in states such as Philadelphia and New Jersey are bracing themselves for their annual night of mischief. Although the night is generally aimed at non-permanent vandalism there are those who take it a step further with harmful and destructive acts of violence. Law enforcement is prepared to increase patrol to areas known for these pranks and are ready to handle offenders accordingly.
Opinion by: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)