Ragamuffin Day: The Precursor To Halloween That The NYT Tried To Erase

Kids dressed in crazy costumes go door to door begging for a feast---it sounds like Halloween, doesn't it? This could be like the fact that it happened on Thanksgiving morning, except for a few notable differences. We're talking about the long-forgotten Ragamuffin Day, a tradition among Irish immigrants to New York City that was popular before Halloween trick-or-treating began. Let's take a look at this beloved tradition and how it was broken by the New York Times and New York City's affluent residents.

Ragamuffin Day and Thanksgiving

Ragamuffin Day was born shortly after Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863. The young children suddenly found themselves with a rare workday away from school, and sure enough, they decided to use that time to be good-natured. Groups of school-age children, especially Irish immigrants from New York City, wore costumes and went door to door, begging strangers. Children wore old and torn clothes as costumes, which gave the tradition its name: Ragamuffin Day.

begging for treats

Dressed in their poorest clothes, groups of young children took to the streets of the Big Apple. As families prepared their Thanksgiving feasts, they were knocking on doors to get out of hand with these ragamuffins. When trick-or-treating came much later, kids turned their attention to candy and other sweets, but on Ragamuffin Day, any food item was fair game. Ragamuffin's children used to collect fruits, baked goods, vegetables, and even pennies and small trinkets from the homes they visited.

change of dress

When Ragamuffin Day was in full swing in the 1870s, children began expanding their costumes, painting their faces, or wearing penny masks. Eventually, a market for commercially produced apparel was born. Ragamuffin children can be seen dressed up as animals, sailors and traders. Many memoirs from that time show that some young boys chose to wear their mother's clothes, stockings and heels from year to year, even rubbing their cheeks. Looks like some of them were just using this opportunity to experiment with different snack combinations.

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