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Beggars Night

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Speaking of weird Halloween stuff, I don’t believe I’ve yet complained/alerted the rest of the country about a local bit of nonsense called beggars night. Beggars night, which apparently exists only in Central Ohio, the greater Des Moines area, and some towns in Western New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, is a specified day and time in which Trick or treating takes place. It can take place on all hallows eve, but it can also take place on any day earlier in the week. Making things even weirder, the dates are different in each town on any given year. There’s no pattern to the distribution of beggar’s nights, nor is any explanation offered. When natives of these parts are called to give an account of this practice, they have nothing to say. I’ve demanded answers from locals and most just shrug it off, but I’ve heard a variety of theories. One is that moving the activity away from Halloween was for safety: less drunk out on these days. Another theory is that this was designed to confuse interlopers (quite possibly those “urban” kids from the big city) seeking better candy from richer people in a safer environment than their own. (Whatever plausibility this theory one had, now that local beggars night schedules are posted widely on the internet it would seem to provide opportunities for enterprising trick or treaters to get a much more impressive haul.)

My googling efforts have not produced convincing accounts of what the hell is going on here. The Des Moines public library present a theory here. Further explanations welcome.

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  • calling all toasters

    Small town America being the hotbed of Satanism that it is, I’m sure October 31st is reserved for the more traditional rituals.

    • The prophet Nostradumbass

      October 31st is when the people in these towns open the crypt, descend the steps carved into the very rock, covered in centuries of dripping ichor, to the underground cavern, with its Cyclopean architecture, gather around the curious idol on a pedestal, and chant:

      “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”

      • Halloween Jack

        You almost got it right, but the proper form is actually: “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Elvis R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”

    • mark f

      It actually wouldn’t surprise me if this were the original reason. Not that the people are busy with Satanic ritual on the 31st, but that Satan is. I knew a kid who wasn’t allowed to participate in trick-or-treating, though he did dress up for the school Halloween parties, because of religion based fears.

      The only time I remember my city moving Halloween was a couple of years ago when we got an early blizzard and the amount of snow crowding the street was deemed unsafe. Naturally a lot of people complained of “pussification.”

  • Probably for the same reason Columbus Ohio has its fireworks on July 3rd.

    • Halloween Jack

      It seems like most of the places I’ve lived have the fireworks on the 3rd, in part because people like to drink at their Independence Day cookouts, and if you have a lot of people driving in to the best places to watch the fireworks…

      • David

        Hi – The reason Beggers’ night exists is to not have kids out and about when drunk drivers are coming back from parties and bars. Not that hard to understand and I think more places should evolve and follow the same tradition. You will never find a beggers’ night on a Friday or Saturday night for the same reason.

  • My town in Massachusetts officially moves trick-or-treating to a Saturday evening sometime around October 31. It seems reasonable to me to move it to a weekend to make it easier for families with working parents to deal with it: the trick-or-treat period is early enough for the little kids to get out before it gets dark, and on a weekday many people wouldn’t be home from work yet.

    You can find out when it is by looking on the city website; this year it’s October 26. But I haven’t heard of the “Beggar’s Night” designation.

    My daughter usually goes out twice, because her grandmother’s wife’s grandnephew, who is about her age, lives in a town on the NH side that does trick-or-treat on the 31st.

    • Scott P.

      Going out in the dark is the whole point of Halloween.

      • MattT

        It’s a lot harder for younger kids to do that than it used to be. They pushed the end of daylight savings time back maybe 10 years ago, so it now happens after Halloween. It’s light an hour later on the 31st than it was when we were kids. I have heard that this was done explicitly due to lobbying by the candy industry after they calculated that there would be more trick-or-treating this way, but I have no proof of that.

        A friend of mine from Wisconsin mentioned they did trick-or-treat during the daylight hours the Sunday before Halloween, but she didn’t mention the other name.

        • Anna in PDX

          My dad has told me the candy lobby story. I should check it out, this is only the second person I have ever seen who has heard of it.

        • ChrisTS

          In PA, lots of towns have ‘Halloween’ on the Friday night just before the real date. Some even restrict T/T to one hour around 6pm.

          Utterly defanged and boring.

          • JoyfulA

            And other PA towns set various other dates for trick-or-treating (beggars’ night?). One local Halloween parade already happened Monday night.

            Back in my day, we trick-or-treated every night for two or three weeks before Halloween. Rather than just stick out our bags for deposits, we’d stand around as people tried to guess who we were, and then we’d have a chat as people asked the new baby’s name and how grandma was coming along. (If people didn’t know us, they knew our relatives.) Sometimes we’d be invited in for cider and cookies. Of course, we didn’t hit but maybe half a dozen houses with this type of trick or treating, which is how we could continue for weeks.

            If we didn’t do this, we were junior juvenile delinquents, throwing shelled corn on porches and against windows or stealing milk bottles and hiding them in odd places.

            We trick-or-treated mostly in self-made costumes, heavily tilted toward “ghosts” in sheets and “bums” in old clothes. Fancy, mother-created costumes were reserved for Halloween, when we wore them to school that afternoon, followed by the entire grade school walking a route through town, and then that night for the after-dark parade downtown, with marching bands and the like.

            As I was aging out of this whole-town, long celebration, we moved to a suburb so my father didn’t have to commute a 30-mile, sometimes flooded by the river, sometimes snow-blocked in the mountain pass, route. Of course, that suburb didn’t celebrate like the small town. Barely at all, actually.

            • Western Dave

              I live in Philly and we have a fair amount of that in my Germantown neighborhood. People who bring the grandkids to trick or treat the old neighborhood and visit and converse. Sometimes these folks grew up in the neighborhood but come back with kids to trick or treat our neighborhood. We have lots of old creepy Victorians that can scare the crap out of you. We also have a fair number of people who “cross the avenue” from East Germantown to West to trick or treat our neighborhood because we have high density of paritcipants and we’ll scare the pants off you. And then we get the teenage moms who trick or treat with a baby that can’t eat solid food yet. We don’t give candy to kids that aren’t in costume. Rapper, is not a costume unless you drop a rhyme.

  • Todd

    No one tell him the horrible truth. He is not yet ready, and I hope he never will be…

  • Grinch

    I moved from Chicago to Akron when I was ten and among the weirder cultural changes was that over-regulated beggars’ nights; actually a Sunday afternoon. I think the old-timers preferred it and local officials just assumed authority over it all. God help you if you knocked a door outside the official window, the get-off-my-lawn crowd was waiting to call the police. One year it was cancelled after a spate of spiked candy rumors. Had a block party instead.

  • Tom Servo

    I grew up a few blocks from where Mary’s parents house was, in There’s Something About Mary (the house they used was owned by Bob Griese at some point I think).

    Anyway, Halloween was usually insane. My neighborhood skewed older. Very few kids my age (middle school to high school years). Lots of couples with very young children and older ones with no kids/kids had moved out. And yet? The big street in the neighborhood, Santa Maria, was packed. Tons and tons of people who were from outside the neighborhood came. And we knew a lot of the people and talked to people-most people were definitely from well outside the neighborhood. It looked like an outdoor music festival. Cops came and barricaded the end of one of the streets. I remember once when I was 17 I was in no mood for it so my dad and I decided to I see a movie. It was 9:30 and the cop at the barricade didn’t want to let us out it was so crowded. My dad had to flash his hospital ID and say that if one of his patients died that was on him. Bold move, but the cop was a dick and all we wanted to do was leave.

    So yeah, to this day my parents generally stay in a nice hotel on Halloween or go out of town. It got so ridiculous in my neighborhood that it was miserable. I mean, Halloween isn’t really a destination “holiday” you know? Stay in your area or at least don’t litter up someone else’s. Christ.

    • I mean, Halloween isn’t really a destination “holiday” you know?

      Tell it to the people who cram themselves into Salem, Mass. every year.

  • Pee Cee

    “Beggars’ Night”? Does this particular thing spawn from the same place as does “Trunk or Treat”?

  • Rugosa

    I grew up in Buffalo, and October 30 was Beggers’ Night. I didn’t think anyplace else had the pre-treat custom. I don’t remember any explanation, but I assumed (as a kid in Catholic school) that it was to separate the secular ghosts-and-candy holiday from November 1, a holy day of obligation. Does that make sense to anyone else?

    • JoyfulA

      No, but my first husband’s parents, who were Catholic, spent November 1 in a cemetery. Basically, extended family and friends and parishioners had sort of a picnic or potluck lunch amid the tombstones of their dear departed. This struck me as extremely peculiar at the time, although you could say it’s parallel to my trick-or-treating the town at this time of year: checking in with friends and family and neighbors before winter sets in.

      My late husband was an immigrant Pole (his family didn’t really have any ancestors in that cemetery), and other Catholics don’t seem to have this tradition, but I have since read this is standard among Mexicans.

  • Is this something new? In my neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia, there was supposedly Mischief Night which was the 30th, and some kids claimed a string of three or four different “nights” ending on Halloween. I never knew anyone who actually went out for them, though.

    Last year some towns around here had to postpone Halloween because of the storm and trees blocking the roads. I don’t approve of moving it to Saturday in general, because it makes it difficult to schedule parties around then (and all the kids seem to have fall birthdays).

    • Adolphus

      That’s what October 30th was for us when I was a kid in suburban Baltimore, though we called it Hell Night. Hell being a few broken eggs, TP’ed trees, or a soaped window. Not like the outright arson in Detroit.

      Now that I am an adult, this doesn’t make sense. You should go out and raise hell, or play tricks, on those people who did not give you a treat AFTER you have been trick-or-treating. So November 1st, or after Beggar’s Night, would be more appropriate, no? Once you have soaped their windows, why should an adult give anyone any candy?

      • Adolphus

        After some googling I see they call it “Devil’s Night” in Detroit. My bad.

      • buskertype

        I’ve heard of “Hell Night,” the night before halloween, from old-timers in WVa. Apparently a typical prank was to cut down a tree to block the road.

    • Captain C

      Growing up in north-central Jersey, we had Mischief Night on the 30th as well, which was when the kids (I was never allowed, to my chagrin) would go out with TP and shaving cream and suchlike.

  • Ubu Imperator

    Beggars’ Night is actually a most-of-Iowa phenomenon (not just Des Moines), though the telling of a joke in order to get the candy is very much a Des Moines-only phenomenon. With that, here’s my daughter’s joke for this year, which she made up herself:

    Q: How much does a skunk cost?
    A: One (s)cent.

    You can totally hear the parentheses when she delivers it.

    • In Cedar Rapids we had Halloween on, you know, Halloween.

      I do, however, have a friend in the Harrisburg, PA area whose kid is forced to have tricks and/or treats on some other locally designated night, but not sure whether the nomenclature matches.

      (NB: I was disturbed as a teenager, however, to learn that children in Minnesota play a game called “Duck, Duck, Gray Duck” — a product of the anti-goose lobby, no doubt.)

    • ploeg

      The joke part might stem from a popular local kids TV show, which had a joke section where all the local kids learned their sub-optimal jokes.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Floppy_Show

    • Nutella

      They did the joke thing in St Louis, too, twenty years ago when I lived there. It seemed to be expected that the child would earn the treats by providing a joke so they turned the traditional trick or treat threat into a cozy exchange.

  • Grump

    Nonsense? Really? I’m a central Ohio native. Kid during the ’60s. We always had Beggers Night on the 30th. Don’t know why. It was just tradition. I always thought everywhere did it that way. We would hit the streets after dinner @ 6 (parants stayed home to give out treats) and visit as many homes as we could until @9. Running to the next house. Meeting up with friends and comparing our loot and costumes. Getting tips on who gave out the best treats. Trick or Treat meant those who didn’t give a treat got tricked. Usually it meant we “soaped” their windows. I think Ivory soap was the most effective. It was all great fun.

  • I’ve found that putting an official-looking “Warning! Registered Sex Offender” sign in front of my house does wonders to keep the trick-or-treaters away.

    • TribalistMeathead

      Comes back to bite you in the ass during Girl Scout Cookies season, though.

  • ploeg

    The aforementioned reasons are good reasons (and almost certainly there isn’t one single reason that holds across the board). I would add the rise of the car to the list. Aunt Betty in Ankeny and Aunt Edith in Bondurant both want to have your kids hit them up for candy in costume. Not feasible before cars became widely available, and not feasible if trick or treating were limited to a single night, but quite feasible and tempting if Ankeny and Bondurant chose different nights for trick or treating. (And because this doubled the take, the kids didn’t mind so much.)

    There’s also so much damn stuff going on anymore. There are some communities that hold parades for Halloween, in addition to all the other stuff that’s going on. You have to schedule to fit everything in.

  • NewishLawyer

    When I lived in Brooklyn (2006-2008) there was something akin to Beggar’s night. Kids would go trick or treating on the main commercial drag (Smith Street). I think it usually occurred on a weekend afternoon. Though I also seem to recall stuff happening on Halloween.

    Now I live in SF. I think I saw some trick or treating during my first year here but nothing since then. Though apartment living might have challenges to trick-or-treating and San Francisco has more dogs than kids.

    My guess is that towns are co-opting and making it official and safe in order to get rid of noise complaints and/or practical jokes.

    • nixnutz

      I used to live on Mission St. and kids would just trick or treat in the stores and then get their photos taken at the photo shop near El Farolito which would then be on display in the window for months afterwards. I don’t know if they did the same thing in other neighborhoods but I certainly never saw them going door to door. I found that kind of sad compared to what I’d experienced as a suburban kid but the photo thing was a nice touch.

  • Woodrowfan

    growing up in Dayton, Ohio in the 60s-early 70s we had Beggar’s Night too. I totally confused several friends when I moved to northern Virginia and asked when Beggar’s Night was held here.

    I seem to remember different communities held it on different nights, allowing some lucky kids to go trick-or-treat multiple times..

  • Tom Stickler

    As I remember Beggars’ Night in Darke County, Ohio, in the ’40s, it was less a scheduling difference than it was a nomenclature difference.

    “Trick or Treat” was what was said when the door was answered, not the name of the activity. And, yes, Ivory Soap — made in Cincinnati — was a favorite window decoration for those refusing treats.

  • katem

    There are a few neighborhoods here in Texas that do trick-or-treating the Saturday before Halloween, if Halloween falls on a school night. Ours isn’t one of them, so I don’t really know how this works.

    We get a fair amount of trick-or-treaters, but there are PLENTY of Fall Festival (religious) alternatives here in town – some of them are happening this weekend, some will happen on Halloween.

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