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Candy Tampering, Ragamuffin Parades, and Mischief Night
I was watching the new Chucky TV series and multiple scenes involved instances of Halloween treats, namely an apple, being tampered with by adding a sharp object.
I grew up with the idea that bad people are messing with our Halloween candy, and we need to be ever vigilant. Like many kids, I wasn’t allowed to eat any of my candy after Trick or Treating until my Mom had done a complete visual inspection of every piece (and I am very sure grabbed all of her favorites.)
I don’t think I would have fallen for the razor blade in the apple, mostly because apples didn’t come home with me if given as a treat. But it got me wondering, when did Halloween candy tampering stories start and how widespread are they?
The idea of non-Halloween candy tampering started as far back as the 18th century, when food started to be mass-produced and distributed. But with the rise of the modern Halloween in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s, stories around candy tampering began to revolve around the holiday.
How fearful should we be of a stranger putting something in our candy? Statistically, according to the Encyclopedia of Urban Legends, not too much.
Instead, what we have are a few isolated incidents, that are amplified by the media and passed around like folk tales.
According to studies, no child has ever been killed by eating Halloween candy given to them by a stranger. Instead, the real threat, and the people ruining Halloween, are usually much closer to home.
Even if statistics are in your favor, if you are a kid or an adult, you should probably take a few minutes to carefully check your treats before eating them.
While reading about the darker side of Trick or Treating, I was reminded of a practice that my grandmother told me about when I was a kid.
While we are all familiar with the tradition of getting dressed up in costumes and going door to door to get treats, this practice was not always a Halloween-only thing. In 1870, Ragamuffin Day started to be “celebrated” on Thanksgiving Day.
On Ragamuffin Day, children would dress up like they were destitute and go door to door asking for money and treats. Unsurprisingly, when they were actually given money and treats, the holiday quickly became very popular.
Eventually, people started to complain about all these kids constantly bothering them on Thanksgiving, and opinion against the holiday began to wane by the 1930s. It was at this time that the practice was folded into Ragamuffin Parades, which are the precursor to the modern Thanksgiving Day parade.
Still, the Ragamuffins persevered and in the 1940s, they were still out there on Thanksgiving morning in some areas.
Here is some rare color footage of some kids in their Ragamuffin costumes during the 1940s in College Point, NY. Notice a lot of the costumes look like holdovers from Halloween.
Some areas, especially around New York, still hold parades honoring the tradition, but as far as I know, no kids are out there going door to door on Thanksgiving asking for money.
I am sure that if the people who were complaining about Ragamuffin Day knew what things might be like the day before Halloween in a few decades, they would happily trade to have it back.
When I was a little kid growing up in New Jersey, I would walk out of my house on Halloween morning and in many neighborhoods, things looked different. Broken eggs in the street and on houses, shaving cream sprayed everywhere, what had happened?
This regional tradition goes by different names, depending on where you live, but the idea was the same. Once you had grown out of Trick or Treats, but before you were an adult, October 30th was for the making of trouble.
Reporting on the tradition began in the US around the same time that Ragamuffin Day was being shut down. Perhaps as a reaction to the loss of a holiday? Others speculate that its popularity was tied to the frustration people felt during the Great Depression.
Whatever the case, what started out as egg throwing and simple pranks escalated in some areas.
For example, in Detroit, where it is referred to as Devil’s Night, there had been increasing levels of arson. Enough so that the city released an anti-arson PSA in 1995 hoping to combat the dangerous trend.
This time of year is supposed to be scary, but I prefer my scares to come from too many monster movies and rubber spiders.
So when planning your festivities this season, costumed or not, stay safe.