In Northern New Jersey, where I grew up, the night before Halloween was Cabbage Night*, a evening where children had implied permission to go out into their neighborhoods, play pranks and have some relatively harmless fun. Adults looked the other way at shaving-cream splattered sidewalks and toilet-paper covered trees, but if you were found smashing eggs onto cars you’d get in big trouble. Yet it still happened anyway. It was a night for taking risks, for escaping the rules and confines of your home, classroom or church. It was a night to be a bit of an outlaw.
This was in the 1970s and 1980s. We could roam the streets unsupervised on Cabbage Night. You could feel the danger and mystery of Halloween in your very bones, young as those bones were, and you could sense another world lurking very close to your own. Most children believe in magic and at Halloween it’s easier than ever to do so. The air is filled with the smell of decaying leaves and that chilly crispness so unique to autumn, along with the wind that whispers of something else, something you’d forgotten and would return to one day, but not quite yet.
Cabbage Night was the time to feel and experience all of that, to be just a little bad because when the bad things came a calling on Halloween, they might pass over you, thinking you were one of their own.
So go ahead and be a little bit bad tonight. It might come in handy tomorrow.
*It’s also called Mischief Night, Devil’s Night and various other names, depending on where you live in the U.S.