The earliest reference to Mischief Night is from 1790 when a headmaster encouraged a school play which ended in "an Ode to Fun which praises children's tricks on Mischief Night in most approving terms". In the United Kingdom, these pranks were originally carried out as part of May Day celebrations, but shifted to later in the year, dates varying in different areas, some marking it on October 30, the night before Halloween, others on November 4, the night before Bonfire Night. According to one historian, "May Day and the Green Man had little resonance for children in grimy cities. They looked at the opposite end of the year and found the ideal time, the night before the gunpowder plot." However, the shift only happened in the late nineteenth century and is described by the Opies as "one of the mysteries of the folklore calendar". In Germany, Mischief Night is still celebrated on May 1.
In the United States, Mischief Night is commonly held on October 30, the night before Halloween. The separation of Halloween tricks from treats seems to have only developed in certain areas, often appearing in one region but not at all nearby. In New Jersey's Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Warren, and Union counties, as well as in Philadelphia; Delaware; Westchester County, New York; and Fairfield County, Connecticut, it is referred to as "Mischief Night" or "Devil's Night". In some towns in Northern New Jersey and parts of New York State, it is also known as "Goosey Night". Meanwhile, in Baltimore, Maryland it has traditionally been referred to as "Moving Night".
In rural Niagara Falls, Ontario, during the 1950s and 1960s, Cabbage Night (French: Nuit de Chou) referred to the custom of raiding local gardens for leftover rotting cabbages and hurling them about to create mischief in the neighborhood. Today, the night is not celebrated in Ontario but is commonly known as "Cabbage Night" in parts of Vermont; Connecticut; Bergen County, New Jersey; Upstate New York; Northern Kentucky; Newport, Rhode Island; Western Massachusetts; and Boston, Massachusetts.
It is known as "Gate Night" in New Hampshire, West Kootenay, British Columbia, Tahsis, British Columbia, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Thunder Bay, (Ontario), Rockland County, New York, North Dakota and South Dakota, as "Mat Night" in Quebec, Canada, and as "Devil's Night" in many places throughout Canada, Michigan, and western Pennsylvania.
Mischief night is known in Yorkshire as "Mischievous Night", or the shortened "'Chievous Night" "Miggy Night", "Tick-Tack Night", "Corn Night", "Trick Night" or "Micky Night" and is celebrated across the north of England on November 4th the night before Bonfire Night. In some areas of Yorkshire, it is extremely popular among thirteen-year-olds as they believe it to be a sort of "coming of age ceremony".
In Liverpool, Mischief night is known locally as "Mizzy Night"; trouble spots were being tackled by Merseyside Police in 2015.
Mischief Night tends to include popular tricks such as toilet papering yards and buildings, powder-bombing and egging cars, people, and homes, using soap to write on windows, "forking" yards, setting off fireworks, and smashing pumpkins and jack-o'-lanterns. Local grocery stores often refuse to sell eggs to pre-teens and teens around the time of Halloween for this reason. Occasionally, the damage can escalate to include the spray-painting of buildings and homes. Less destructive is the prank known as "Knock, Knock, Ginger," "Ding-Dong Ditch," "knock down ginger," or "knock-a-door-run and nicky-nicky-nine-doors (West Quebec)."
Another popular prank in the United States is to put a small paper bag filled with dog excrement at the victim's front door, set it on fire, ring the doorbell, and run away while the occupant stomps out the disgusting surprise, thus getting it on the bottom of their foot.
In some areas of Queens, New York, Cabbage Night has included throwing rotten fruit at neighbors, cars, and buses. Pre-teens and teens filled eggs with Neet and Nair and throw them at unsuspecting individuals. In the mid-1980s, garbage was set on fire and cemeteries were set ablaze. In Camden, New Jersey, Mischief Night escalated to the point that in the 1990s widespread arson was committed, with over 130 arsons on the night of October 30, 1991.
In Detroit, which was particularly hard-hit by Devil's Night arson and vandalism throughout the 1980s, many citizens take it upon themselves to patrol the streets to deter arsonists and those who may break the law. This is known as "Angels' Night". Some 40,000 volunteer citizens patrol the city on Angels' Night, which usually runs October 29 through October 31, around the time most Halloween festivities are taking place.In the 1994 film The Crow, the protagonist and his fiancée are murdered on the eve of their Halloween wedding on "Devil's Night" by a street gang on the orders of Detroit's most notorious crime lord, Top Dollar. With the help of a mystical crow, Eric returns from the grave on "Devil's Night" exactly one year later to exact revenge against the crime lord and his henchmen.
A 1999 episode of Rocket Power explores the joys of Mischief Night in The Night Before.
A 2006 film, Mischief Night, is based on events surrounding this night in Leeds, UK.
A horror film released in 2013, Mischief Night directed by Richard Schenkman.
A different horror film released in 2014, Mischief Night directed by Travis Baker.