Halloween on Thanksgiving? In the 19th Century, It was!

Panhandling, dressing up, and creepy masks: until the 1940s, this was Thanksgiving in America. On most urban streets, children would dress up in shabby clothes and go "masking," a practice that Appleton's Magazine described as:

"deeply rooted in the New York Child. All toy shops carry a complete line of hideous and terrifying false faces...the favorite disguise among the boys is to tog themselves out in the worn-out finery of their sisters. All day long they swarm about the streets in groups and parties, parading to the music of tin cans, importuning the passerby for pennies..."

"Anything for Thanksgiving?" was their cry and if they weren't given fruit, candy, or coins, the householder who answered the door or the passerby on the street was likely to get a loud horn blown in their face or dusted with confetti and flour.

They were called "ragamuffins" and while it sounds like innocent fun today, some cities at the time described the children as "a plague," and part of an "abominable custom, amounting to a public nuisance." Newspapers and civic organizations even worried that the ragamuffin tradition was likely to lead to a lifetime habit of begging.




"If the children are humored in their panhandling for one day, some can't understand why it shouldn't be tolerated all the time..they 'touch' pedestrians for pennies, swing onto automobiles and refuse to drop off until bribed by the drivers, ring doorbells and demand hand-outs.." wrote William Gaines in 1932.

During the cheerless days of the Great Depression and under mounting pressure from social organizations, the practice of Thanksgiving masking began dying out. However, some of the outer boroughs of Manhattan still host "Ragamuffin Parades" in a nod to this lost tradition and modern folks seem to want to hold on to Halloween longer than ever. Who knows, it might not be too surprising if one day soon we again hear:

"Anything for Thanksgiving?"

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