Sunday, September 5, 2010

What is Devil's Night?

Growing up in Michigan as I did, I have always regarded the night before Halloween as Devil's Night. True to its name, Devil's Night is a time of uncivil nonsense in which pranks are pulled. Doorbells ring. Bags of dog poop blaze. Toilet paper sails over the branches of mature hardwoods. Eggs in abundance crash against parked cars, leaving an unpleasant gooey mess for undeserving morning Angels. My Grandmother, who grew up in Chatham, Ontario remembered Devil's Night with a fond smile. When I was little she would recount to me how the moving of outhouses was a popular prank under the darkness of Devil's Night.

Devil's Night has also summoned fear in the good citizens of the land for darker reasons. Detroit, Michigan long held the infamous crown as the capital of Devil's Night. The culture of the region had always observed Devil's Night but from the 1970s to 1990s, more destructive and dangerous crimes occurred the night before Halloween. As the city disintegrated, arson became the norm for pranksters because the numerous abandoned homes and buildings offered unprotected targets. Scenes of blazing buildings across the dark city landscape made for shocking news footage. Property owners desperate because of their inability to sell their buildings took the opportunity to set a match to their problems and collect insurance money, adding to the fires on Devil's Night. Eventually in the 1990s patrols of citizens ended the chaos and changed the name to Angel's Night.

I also recall a shocking murder from my younger years that happened on Devil's Night. In Mid Michigan a man named Stephen King bludgeoned to death a coworker at the drugstore they worked at with a hammer off the shelf. This is strictly from memory because I could not find any information about the murder because it happened before the rise of the Internet. The horrid crime certainly happened though, and it added to the regional fear of Devil's Night.

Because people like a measure of fear with Halloween, Devil's Night persists throughout the Midwest, Northeast, and regions of Canada. It goes by different names sometimes. In New Jersey, October 30th is called Mischief Night or Cabbage Night. Ohio dubs the night Damage Night or Beggar's Night. Some Canadians call it Gate Night or Matt Night although my Canadian Grandmother called it Devil's Night. She did live very close to Michigan though and eventually emigrated to the state.

The Western and Southwestern United States has no tradition of Devil's Night. All the tricks are done on Halloween. I lived out West for 14 years and was at first surprised that Devil's Night did not exist. My first year away from my native land, I worked in a squalorous and crime-ridden neighborhood in Las Vegas, Nevada and I begged my coworkers to tell me what precautions I needed to take. I was invariably met with blank stares, and happily nothing happened to me or my car on Devil's Night.

Many years later, I'm back in a Devil's Night region. I'm not terribly worried, but I always enjoy that tingle of caution that crosses my senses when the sun sets on October 30th. I in no way condone the mild vandalism associated with Devil's Night, but I accept it as an almost harmless outlet for juvenile rebellion. With it gotten mostly out of the way on Devil's Night, the fun of Halloween can be enjoyed by all. I adore Halloween and love how it has become a major holiday to the American masses. It is a pleasant holiday, involving all ages, and requires no religious affiliations. I publish a Halloween website that offers articles about Halloween costumes and Halloween parties.

The pranks of Devil's Night are derived from the Irish tradition that blamed the mayhem on fairies and goblins. Because of the Irish diaspora, the concept spread to many regions. Although everybody knows that the supernatural tricksters are actually thoughtless teenagers, Devil's Night remains the night when unsightly pranks are wearily accepted.