We’ve probably all heard of Halloween and most realise it falls on 31st of October each year. However, there may be some of you out there who never realised that the 30th October has a name of its own – Devil’s Night!
As well as Devil’s Night it’s is also known as Mischief Night, Mat Night, Gate Night, Goosey Night and even Cabbage Night, depending on where you live.
Much like the annual tradition of trick or treat, Devil’s Night is most popular in the USA.
Now, let’s explore what is special about 30th October and what the various names for Halloween Eve mean.
Devil’s Night is certainly the most sinister incarnation of the October 30th ‘festivities’. It usually occurs in Detroit USA, where undesirables are not content with playing a few silly pranks or practical jokes, Oh no! These idiots get their jollies by setting fire to abandoned buildings. Yes that’s right, buildings in huge numbers are set ablaze with no thought for the danger they are causing and the lives of innocent people, including fire fighters, they affect for the sake of a ‘prank’. The cost to property owners and those involved, both financially and physically can never be justified.
Thankfully, it’s seems since 2010 the instances of Devil’s Night arson have dropped to almost non-Devil’s Night numbers (around 30 fires on average each night). This is due to Detroit officials taking a robust stance against the arsonists and to the 50,000 or so volunteers taking back their streets each year to prevent things getting out of hand.
Devil’s Night, complete with the lighting of fires and much more nefarious forms of mischief was the backdrop for the wonderful 1994 movie, The Crow starring the late Brandon Lee.
There’s nothing wrong with a little mischief at Halloween is there? After all we encourage our little ones to dress up as witches and monsters so they can knock on the doors of strangers to beg for sweets and perhaps enjoy the odd scare here and there. This is the more likely origin for the Halloween we know today.
Believe it or not: When Mischief Night first began in America is unclear but the earliest record of it originates in 18th century Oxford, England, around 1790. It was also seen in Victorian England with children playing tricks on friends and neighbours.
While we are unsure of it’s US origins it is believed to have started during the great depression, just before the start of World War 2. It started off with pranks such as setting off burglar alarms, starting fires, breaking windows and throwing rotten fruit and veg at one another. Mercifully, more recently we see mostly the toilet papering of trees, egging of houses and other irritating but largely harmless tricks and pranks.
Apocryphally originating when a Police Chief in New Jersey USA, named Chief Benjamin Fox of the Wykoff Police Department, released a stern letter to the parents in his jurisdiction. The letter warned parents of the dim view he and his officers would take of any errant youths behaving ‘Goosey’ on 30th October, as was the tradition.’ Goosey’ was Chief Fox’s term for ‘wild’ or ‘flighty’. The name, as the tale goes, just seemed to stick.
Ah, well, this is an interesting one. It seems Cabbage Night started with a Scottish tradition.
The night before Halloween, the young Scottish maidens of the town or village would sneak around in the darkness and cold before stealing a cabbage from a neighbouring garden. Once a very secret and most magical spell was cast over the freshly pilfered vegetable, the Scot’s lassie in question could peel away some leaves to see what their future husband would look like*.
Once the magic was complete and the face of the future suitor became clear, the girl would throw the cabbage against a neighbours door before running off into the darkness.
*I’m not too sure what this says about the morals of the thieving Scottish ladies nor the cabbage-like looks of the Scottish gentlemen involved. There must have been some dishonest females and some darn ugly males!
Mat Night & Gate Night
Finally, we have these two October 30th traditions all the way from the long, cold, dark October nights found in Quebec, Canada.
On Mat Night the residents find it entertaining to steal the mats from outside the doors of their neighbours and switch them around with their other neighbours mats. Erm… …okay, if that’s how you wish to spend your evenings then go for it I guess.
Not content with messing with mats on Mat Night they also have the joys of Gate Night where they spend their, obviously plentiful, spare time unlocking the gates of nearby farmers allowing the livestock to escape and wander the countryside for the evening.
In conclusion, while I warmly welcome American traditions such as Trick or Treat to the shores of England I sincerely hope Devil’s Night, as it is found in Detroit, never makes the trans Atlantic journey. Let’s all hope it simply disappears forever. In fact, I’m quite happy to stick with good old Halloween. How about you?
© Colin Lawson Books