Mischief Night (also known as Devil's Night, Hell Night and by numerous regional nicknames) is an annual custom observed across most of northern England as well as in areas of the eastern United States and Canada. It is the one night of the year on which people, usually older children and teenagers, are given more freedom than usual to indulge in pranks which usually involve acts of petty vandalsim. In the US and Canada, it is usually observed on October 30, the night before Halloween. In northern England, the traditional date of Mischief Night is November 4, the night before Guy Fawkes Night, although Mischief Night activities are increasingly taking place on October 30 instead of, or as well as, on November 4 in the United Kingdom too.
The earliest known reference to Mischief Night is from England in 1790. A school play, written by the school's headmaster, ends with a poem called "Ode to Fun" in praise of Mischief Night pranks. Mischief Night activities used to take place on the evening before May Day, as they still do in Germany, but shifted to the evening before Guy Fawkes Night during the 19th century, a time when many people in England moved from rural areas to the expanding cities as a result of the Industrial Revolution. It has been suggested that May Day, a holiday which celebrates the coming of spring and the return of greenery, meant little to children living in grimy cities who decided instead to attach the tradition to a holiday which had more relevance to them. British immigrants imported the Mischief Night tradition to North America, where Guy Fawkes Night is not widely celebrtaed, consequently its date changed from November 4 to the evening before the more popular holiday of Halloween.
A common Mischief Night prank is to play the game known as "Ding Dong Ditch" and "Knock, Knock, Ginger" amongst many other names, which involves knocking on a door or ringing the doorbell and running away and hiding before the door is opened. A variant of it involves sticking a pin in the doorbell to make it ring non-stop. Most other Mischief Night pranks are acts of petty vandalism. They include stealing gates, tying the door knobs of two front doors together so that the people in neither house can open their door, attaching strings of empty tin cans to the backs of cars, using soap to write on windows, covering trees, hedges and buildings with toilet paper and throwing rotten fruit and vegetables, flour or eggs at houses or cars. In areas where Mischief Night is observed, many stores refuse to sell flour or eggs to people under the age of 18 in late October and early November. These are all pranks which used to be commonly carried out by trick-or-treaters on people who refused to give them candy, although nowadays the "trick" part of "trick-or-treat" is rarely carried out. In the UK, fireworks are often set off on Mischief Night. In North America, jack-o-lanterns and other pumpkins are often destroyed.
Most Mischief Night pranks are relatively harmless and their effects can be easily clened up. However, more serious vandalism, such as spray-painting buildings and arson, also take place on the night. In Detroit, Michigan, Devil's Night became a serious problem during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1984, eight hundred fires were started in the city in the days around Halloween. In 1995, the "Angel's Night" program was launched which saw volunteers patrol neighborhoods to prevent arson and other acts of vandalism from taking place. The program continues to this day, usually running between the nights of October 29 and October 31 and drawing up to fifty thousand volunteers. Devil's Night arson attacks in Detroit began to drop off during the 1990s, although recently there has been a slight increase. One hundred and sixty-nine fires were started in the city in 2010, a forty-two percent increase on the previous year.