It’s Devil’s Night!

October 31, 2013

Today is Halloween, but the tricks started yesterday with Devil’s Night.

Falling on October 30th, Devil’s Night is also known as “Mischief Night,” “Cabbage Night,” or “Hell Night.” No matter what it’s called, it’s probably the nastiest holiday in Europe and North America.

Serving as a mean-spirited counterpart to the more innocent traditions of Halloween, Devil’s Night is celebrated by pulling pranks instead of “tricks.” It’s also a lot newer than the medieval festivals that gave way to Halloween. Devil’s Night began in 1790 as Mischief Night. A headmaster of St. John’s College at Oxford put on a play, followed by an “Ode to Fun,” which encouraged students to play pranks (like throwing cabbages at houses). Students obliged and it became an annual tradition…in early May. In the 19th century, the night switched to the evening prior to Guy Fawkes Day, and finally settled on October 30th around the turn of the 20th century, which is also when the holiday spread to the U.S., particularly Detroit.

devil's nightTypically, the pranks are as harmless as covering a neighbor’s tree in toilet paper or smashing a few pumpkins. Things started getting out of hand in the ‘70s. In Detroit, Devil’s Night is marked by acts of major vandalism, property damage, and even arson. In 1984, for example, more than 800 fires were reported.

After a particularly wild Devil’s Night in 1994, mayor Dennis Archer attempted to rebrand the holiday as “Angel’s Night.” In addition to increasing police patrols, he spearheaded a massive “citizens’ patrol” to protect Detroit’s streets. It worked. It’s become an annual tradition, with as many as 40,000 volunteers participating every year.

And, if you missed it, here is a quick history of Halloween.