What is Mischief Night?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

In North America and the UK, Mischief Night is a prankster's holiday celebrated around Halloween or Guy Fawkes Night. This holiday appears to have emerged in the 19th century, and it was brought to North America by Irish immigrants. In accordance with legend, the pranks and mischief which take place on this holiday are blamed on fairies or spirits, rather than the people who actually perpetrate them.

Mischief Night in some places has turned criminal, including acts of arson.
Mischief Night in some places has turned criminal, including acts of arson.

Typical Mischief Night pranks involve mild vandalism and pranks which are designed to get people to laugh. In many communities, the pranks are minimally damaging, as the goal is to have fun, rather than wreak havoc. Some communities also have specific Mischief Night traditions, like removing the gates from the fields or placing an outhouse on the courthouse lawn. In some regions, this night has turned more sinister, with serious acts of vandalism, including arson.

Mild vandalism, such as breaking windows, are sometimes performed as part of Mischief Night.
Mild vandalism, such as breaking windows, are sometimes performed as part of Mischief Night.

The origins of Mischief Night are rather unclear. The holiday goes by a plethora of alternate names including Gate Night, Mizzy Night, Trick Night, Goosey Night, and Devil's Night, and it is sometimes held on nights other than 30 October. Halloween, for example, is blended with Mischief Night in some places, and in England, people may reserve pranks and mischief for the eve of Guy Fawkes Day, which falls a few days after Halloween on the fifth of November. The holiday may have simply evolved as a way to allow people to work off excess steam with harmless hijinks, or it may be the remnant of an older pagan holiday.

Children are usually the ones who are most engaged in Mischief Night pranks such as tapping on windows, toilet papering bushes or houses, and daubing sticky substances onto door knobs. Teens may organize themselves for more elaborate pranks, such as moving cars, and sometimes adults will get involved as well. In some areas, local police turn a blind eye to benign pranks, although they may step in if serious property damage is going on, or if a prank appears to be dangerous.

This traditional night of pranking is remarkably similar to the April Fools Day pranks played all over the world, and some regions of the world also have a Mischief Night around the beginning of May. The plethora of pranking holidays which provide a designated day and time for pranking may simply reflect a widespread appreciation among humans for jokes, pranks, and shenanigans.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


In Russia there is Mischief night, too. But on 6th July. --Alexandra


Where I'm from people call mischief night devil's night, and it’s always on the eve of haloween night. Most of the time, it’s simply a night for people to get together and party around a bonfire, but you hear about actual arsons in the local news around this time of year. It’s usually condemned buildings that a bunch of kids burn down, but it is definitely a safety issue. There is always a strong police presence on these nights, and if you have a bonfire that is too big, the Fire Marshal or one of his/her representatives will definitely pay you a visit.


In New England, people call mischief night “cabbage night” because people used to throw old moldy cabbages at houses. Most of what goes on is annoying, but harmless. Kids often toilet paper houses, smash pumpkins, or grease doorknobs. It is common to wake up the next morning and find peanut butter under your car door handle, or find your front door knob tied to the porch rail.

Sometimes though, the pranks can get dangerous, and the vandalism can cause more than aggravation. Things like paint balling cars, peeling paint from cars with bologna, or egging personal property will surely attract the attention of police.


I think there is nothing wrong with mischif night if the pranks are done for the purpose of fun, and there is no damage to property.

A little harmless mischief adds spice to life, or at least it used to, in good old times.

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