When Halloween Fell on Thanksgiving for Irish NYers

Not just for kids – marching in the Bay Ridge Ragamuffin Parade. (Photo by Mark Kortum, Creative Commons license)

Not just for kids – marching in the Bay Ridge Ragamuffin Parade. (Photo by Mark Kortum, Creative Commons license)

Kids in costumes showing up on doorsteps asking for, or demanding, sweets wasn’t always reserved for October 31. During the first half of the 1900s, kids, especially in heavily Irish neighborhoods, would go out on Thanksgiving morning, Tom Deignan explains in an Irish Central column.

This was the day kids would dress up in sloppy clothes and transform themselves into little Ragamuffins. They would knock on doors and shout “Anything for Thanksgiving!”  The hope was that the kindly homeowner would offer up tasty treats — just as millions of kids hope for this week on Halloween.

Ragamuffin activities were particularly popular in Irish neighborhoods, and gave kids a chance to — shall we say — try on different identities.

Deignan quotes a letter to the editor by Jim Tierney to The New York Times in which he describes celebrating Ragamuffin Day with Irish flair.

“On Thanksgiving we dressed as Ragamuffins — three Irish-American kids — and went from backyard to backyard, pub to pub, looking for handouts. But with a difference. We played Irish traditional music on the fiddle and flute and sang and danced to it.

We sometimes earned $45 for the day. The best money was made playing ‘The Stack of Barley’ and singing ‘A Nation Once Again.’”

But it wasn’t necessarily all an endearing affair, as violence would mark some celebrations.

Gunfire and gang fights broke out in Brooklyn as packs of Ragamuffins crossed each other’s paths in 1906 and 1907.  Even less explicitly violent behavior created tension.

This might have contributed to the eventual end of Ragamuffin festivities, which coincided with Halloween’s rise into the mainstream.

Police and school officials regularly cracked down on Ragamuffins and begging. The ascension of Halloween and calls for more orderly Thanksgiving celebrations seemed to hasten the demise of the Ragamuffin traditions.

One form of the “ragamuffin” revelry is still found in one Brooklyn neighborhood. Rather than going door-to-door in search of treats, kids in Bay Ridge and neighboring areas dress up in typical Halloween costumes and march in the annual Ragamuffin Parade, held every September or October since 1967. Home Reporter News covered this year’s parade, which was held on October 5.

Visit the New York Public Library website to see a photo in its digital collection of “Thanksgiving ragamuffins” in Manhattan from 1933.

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