What’s up with Beggars’ Night?

Candy filled jack-o-lantern

Newcomers to the Des Moines area are often surprised to find that local children go out trick-or-treating on October 30, not on Halloween night, October 31, as most of the country does. How did this tradition get started? An article in The Des Moines Register on October 28, 1997, says “Blame World War II.” as well as rowdy youths in the early history of Des Moines. According to this article and other sources, Beggars’ Night was created in 1938 by the Des Moines Playground Commission (later the Parks and Recreation Department) because Halloween night had become a night of vandalism and destructive “tricks” such as setting fires and breaking windows.

Kathryn Krieg, director of recreation for the commission, in 1938 began a campaign to encourage less violent forms of Halloween fun. She declared Beggars’ Night to be October 30 in Des Moines, and further required that children would only receive their treat after earning it by performing a trick or telling a riddle. This too is the opposite of the rest of the country, which traditionally provides the treat in order to avoid being tricked!

A second theory is that World War II was the genesis of the tricks before treats tradition. An October 1942 Des Moines Register article encouraged children not to waste soap, let air out from tires, or “interrupt the sleep of many a war worker” with constantly ringing doorbells. In addition, they were encouraged to go door-to-door and shout “Tricks for Eats!” Presumably, children could aid the war effort by working for their candy.

So this year, as always, Beggars’ Night in Des Moines and some surrounding communities will be observed on October 30 from 6:00 to 8:00 PM. Newcomers, be ready!

Sources:
The Des Moines Register, October 28, 1997.
The Des Moines Register, October 26, 2000.

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