Home Features BONJ Series NJ Vocabulary: What is Mischief Night?

NJ Vocabulary: What is Mischief Night?

A night completely devoted to running around your neighborhood and wreaking havoc? Mark this one down under things New Jersey does better than any other state. That may or may not be because New Jersey is the only state that celebrates Mischief Night, but we’ll take it.

Mischief NightNoun. The New Jersey-centric holiday celebrated on October 30, which entails neighborhood youth playing pranks and performing minor acts of vandalism.
Example: “Are we going out bombing on Mischief Night?”
When: October 30

According to this survey, this date means nothing to most of America. In New Jersey, though, the night before Halloween is knowns as Mischief Night and it’s pretty amazing. Ok, so let’s clarify, not everyone calls it Mischief Night. In some northern New Jersey areas, October 30 is also referred to as Goosey Night or Cabbage Night. Since neither a goose nor any cabbage are necessarily involved, Mischief Night is the simplest way to describe what happens on October 30.

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“Man, I wish I grew up in New Jersey,” says Sonja M., a Florida native married to a New Jersey one. “Around here we called it a school night, but Joe talks about that night with fond memories.”

What do those memories entail?

“Shaving cream on cars, soaped up windows, toilet paper in trees…complete hijinx!” Sonja says.
mischief night
Nicole Calderone, a lifelong New Jersey resident who does not participate in the nightly events anymore, but enjoys seeing neighborhood kids keeping the tradition alive, looks back with nostalgia, too.

“When I was a kid, we went ‘bombing,’ which meant throwing globs of shaving cream onto people’s cars. I would come home covered in the stuff. Not too many kids go out anymore, though.”

That may be because some places in the state, like Brick Township and Sayreville, have imposed Mischief Night curfews to ensure no real damage is done to cars and houses. So, how did this night get so out of control?


According to a report by The Guardian, the earliest known appearance of the term “mischief night” dates back to 1790 in Oxford, England. A headmaster at St. John’s college documented his encouragement of students to get out there and have some fun.

The night ended  in, “an Ode to Fun which praises children’s tricks on Mischief Night in most approving terms.”
mischief night
Other historians claim that the stress of the Great Depression and threat of war led to neighborhood mischief and vandalism.

To offset the tension, migrating Irish and Scottish immigrants – many of whom who landed in New York and ultimately New Jersey –  recreated the tradition of Halloween to bring some joy back into their kids’ lives…and to try to get them to stop setting things on fire.

See, what started as a bit of “child’s play” and pranks, eventually turned into violence as tension in the country grew. To stem the chaos, parents began offering candy and costumes to children as a way of distracting them from their naughty deeds. While this worked for the most part, it left all of the pranksters to move their activities to the night before Halloween. New Jersey, meet Mischief Night.

Whatever the origins of the phrase are, Mischief Night is a regional holiday in New Jersey. And even though it may not be as celebrated as it once was, it is another example of how immigration plays an important role in shaping New Jersey’s history and image.