1910 Tuck Postcard showing pranksters stealing a gate on Mischief or Gate Night
Mischief Night/Devil's Night
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"The devil's in the moon for mischief"
~ Don Juan by George Gordon, Lord Byron, Canto the First
Mischief Night, celebrated the night before Hallowe'en is also referred to as Devil's Night, Gate Night, Goosey Night, and Cabbage Night, and has its ancient origins in the tricks and pranks said to be played by spirits and goblins before Samhain. 20th century pranks included minor devilments such as: stealing gates and affixing them elsewhere; tipping over outhouses; knocking or tapping and windows and doors and then hiding; smearing doorknobs with treacle; and raiding local gardens for leftover rotting cabbages and hurling them about the neighborhood. Cabbage throwing is most likely the result of the older practice of the kale and cabbage pulling traditions of Scotland and Ireland for cruciferous vegetable marriage divination purposes! Robert Burns mentions this kale matchmaking activity in his "Halloween" poem as ”pou (pull) the stalks.” Typically, young eligible men and women were blindfolded and guided into a garden to uproot kale or cabbage stalks. The shape and character of the stalks or roots would determine information about the participant’s future wife or husband: short and stunted, tall and healthy, withered and old, even the sweet or bitter flavor hinted at the stature, age, visage, and even disposition of the future spouse. And the amount of dirt clinging to a stalk or root was believed to augur the size of the dowry or fortune the participant should expect! A clean root meant poverty was in the cards, clear motivation for hurling your cabbage! 👺 🥬 🎃 😈
Oct 30, the night before Hallowe'en, Mischief Night or Devil's Night is an informal holiday practiced in some areas of the United States and Canada during which which children and teens traditionally engage in pranks and minor vandalism.
Mischief Night has its ancient origins in the tricks and pranks said to be played by spirits and goblins before Samhain.
When Great Britain was Christianized in the 800s, the ghoulish games and customs of Samhain merged with All Saints Day and All Souls Day, during which the dead were honored with parades and door-to-door solicitation by peasants for treats — usually a bit of food or money.
After the Protestant Reformation, much of England stopped the "treating" side of Halloween because it was connected to Catholic saints, and transferred the trickery to the eve of Guy Fawkes Night. Mischief Night in England is still celebrated on Nov. 4.
The Irish, Scottish and northern English, meanwhile, kept up much of their Halloween traditions, including the good-natured misbehavior, and brought their ways to North America with the wave of immigration in the 1800s.
Regional variations abound.
In rural Ireland, Scotland, and Northern England, it was also known as "Gate Night." Pranksters would remove gates and hide them or attach them elsewhere. Other typical old-fashioned pranks were:
Knocking and tapping on doors and windows
Daubing objects with whitewash
Smearing of doorknobs with treacle
Tying together adjacent door handles to prevent either from opening
In rural Niagara Falls, Ontario, during the 1950s and 1960s, this custom was known as Cabbage Night (French: Nuit de Chou) referring to the custom of raiding local gardens for leftover rotting cabbages and hurling them about to create mischief in the neighborhood.
By the mid 20th century, more modern tricks included:
toilet papering yards and buildings
powder-bombing and egging cars, people, and homes
using soap to write on windows
setting off fireworks
smashing pumpkins and jack-o'-lanterns.
The word mischief comes from the Old French meschief "misfortune, harm, trouble; annoyance, vexation" while the word devil comes from the late Latin via the Greek word diabolos, meaning ‘accuser, slanderer’ (ultimately deriving from the Hebrew word 'Satan').
There are many names for the devil, who figures prominently in Scottish literature, often mentioned in the works of Robert Burns. Scottish terms include the following:
"Auld Hornie," used by Burns in The Address to the Devil where he writes: “O thou, whatever title suit thee, Auld Hornie.”
"The De'il," though this term can be used to describe someone merely reckless or mischievous.
"Mahoun" as in “The Deil’s Awa Wi’ The Excisemen”, where Burns writes: “The Deil cam fiddlin thro’ the town, And danc’d awa wi’ th Exciseman, And ilka wife cries:—’Auld Mahoun, I wish you luck o’ the prize, man!’"
"Old Nick," "Nickie-Ben," and variations of "Clootie" (clooty, cluty and cluttie, relating to "cloven-hooved"), and "Auld Hangie" are also epithets for the feared one.
Click the Gerda Wegener's 1918 Illustrations for A la Diable, La Baïonnette Cover for more regional variations and names for Mischief Night!