By Veronica MacDonald Ditko
An Accidental Anthropologist
Does it happen to you? Does your hair stand straight up on your neck on the night of October 30? Call it what you want: Cabbage Night, Mischief Night, Goosey Night, it’s all the same. Expect to see some toilet-papered trees and egged windows.
My first experience with Mischief Night, as it is called down on the Jersey Shore, was when I was about 5. I woke up ever so excited on Halloween morning and donned my costume. My father took us out trick-or-treating that day and we immediately headed across the busy street to a house that catty cornered ours. Since it was such a busy street to cross, I had never been there before.
Eventually there was an opening in the traffic and we crossed. Then I looked in horror at the scene before me. The trees had toilet paper ribbons dangling down. The windows had been covered with bar soapy words I could not read. Broken eggs littered the front porch. It looked to my young eyes like a war zone. Even then I could not comprehend the meaning of Mischief Night.
I kept asking my father why, and he said he did not know. He knew the owner of the house, but also could not imagine someone had such hatred for him. I was scarred for life. We rang the doorbell after carefully sidestepping the eggs. But no one answered. It’s no wonder. Never again did I go there or meet the owner of the house.
When I moved up to Northern Jersey, the night of October 30th sounded a lot friendlier. Cabbage Night had a nice ring to it, maybe people made stinky cabbage soup to ward off evil spirits or something. My hunch was actually not far off.
Halloween, or the Celtic holiday of Samhain, was known to be rowdy as people dressed up in scary costumes, lit bonfires, and left food on doorsteps (such as rotten cabbage!) to scare away naughty spirits. Eventually these traditions came to the U.S. through immigrants. Over time, the rowdiness moved to October 30th, while kid-friendly activities stayed October 31.
Researchers say that Mischief Night is now still popular in pockets where Irish and Scottish immigration was popular, such as the northeastern U.S. but not in the South and West. It also has different names in different places:
- Cabbage Night in the northeastern U.S., where rotten vegetables are collected and left on porches or smeared on windows.
- Mat Night in English-speaking Quebec, where pranksters steal doormats and switch them with the neighbors’.
- Gate Night, in the Midwest and Ontario, where livestock gates are opened as a prank.
- Goosey Night in Passaic and Sussex Counties, New Jersey.
- Devil’s Night in Detroit where pranks are now often tied to gang activities.
- Damage Night in Cincinnati.
- Beggars Night in central Ohio and New York State.
- Moving Night in Baltimore.
Great Britain also still celebrates this rowdiness, but on November 4. There it is called “Miggy Night,” “Tick-Tack Night”, “Corn Night”, “Trick Night” and “Micky Night.” Only in Liverpool, it is called “Mizzy Night” and is celebrated on October 30.
Goosey night, which is celebrated by nearby Passaic County neighbors is a more elusive term. A person online said they did an informal study and traced it back to an ethnic group that had moved to the burbs from New York City around 1950 or 1960.
If that term came from England, “goosey” means an idiot, or a quick look at something. Both seem kind of fitting. Probably only an idiot would partake in Goosey Night activities, and if they’re a tiny bit smart, they would only do those activities quickly!
But please, be safe this October 30th and don’t put any rotten ideas in your children’s heads!
Veronica MacDonald Ditko is originally from the Jersey Shore, but married and settled in northern New Jersey. Her journalism career started a decade ago after studying Psychology and Anthropology in Massachusetts. She has written for several newspapers and magazines including The Daily Hampshire Gazette, The Springfield Union News and Sunday Republican, Happi, Chemical Week, The Hawthorne Press, The Jewish Standard, Suite101.com and more.