Who calls it Mischief Night?

Locals know the night before Halloween as Mischief Night. The term isn’t used everywhere, and it sometimes confuses newcomers to the Philadelphia region. Here, we explain what it’s all about.

What is Mischief Night?

Halloween Eve, Oct. 30, is known in the Philadelphia region as Mischief Night.

How is it celebrated?

With vandalism.

Why?

Good question. Though “mischief” has always been a part of Halloween, a dedicated holiday devoted to the hijinks apparently started with the English.

According to the Guardian, the earliest recorded use of the term dates to 1790. A headmaster at St. John’s College in Oxford put on an annual school play that ended in “an Ode to Fun which praises children’s tricks on Mischief Night in most approving terms,” according to the Guardian.

The tradition followed Irish and Scottish immigrants as they moved to the United States.

As for when Americans began adopting the deranged custom, LiveScience points to the Great Depression, which makes sense. “Black Friday,” after all, took place on Oct. 29.

Camera icon Inquirer Archives
A 1947 Inquirer article about Mischief Night.

What type of vandalism are we talking about?

It has varied over the years, but the most common occurrence seems to be kids throwing eggs at houses, cars, and other objects.

Other tools of the trade include paint, soap, and toilet paper.

Who calls it Mischief Night?

Mostly people living along the Northeast corridor.

University of Pennsylvania study found the term is common in Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Delaware.

The best part of the study: Most people who responded to a survey (70 percent) don’t have a term for the night before Halloween.

What do other people call the night before Halloween?

Devil’s Night, Trick Night, and, oddly, Cabbage Night, in which mischievous children leave cabbage and other rotten vegetables on  strangers’ doorsteps.

How bad has it gotten?

Camera icon Inquirer Archives
A 1991 Philadelphia Inquirer article about the Mischief Night fires in Camden.

The early 1990s were the worst.

Rocks were being thrown through windows in Levittown. In Camden, arsonists took it too far.

In 1991, there were about 150 reported fires set on Mischief Night, making it the busiest day in Camden Fire Department history.

For the remainder of the decade, parents and officials took precautions. Yearly police patrols, curfews, and other neighborhood initiatives in Philadelphia and the suburbs were employed in an effort to prevent problems such as the Camden fires.

That was the peak.

Is it still a thing?

Yes, but these antics have dwindled in recent years, presumably because people have more distractions than ever before. And we have evolved. Hopefully.