What is Beggars’ Night?

When I moved to Iowa in 1995, I learned that Des Moines did not celebrate Halloween. Or rather, Halloween was just a day, and trick-or-treating was on the night before – Beggar’s Night. I guess I didn’t know if it was Beggars Night (plural), or Beggar’s Night (singular possessive) or Beggars’ Night (plural possessive). Somewhere my 7th grade English teacher is probably rolling in her grave over that sentence.

And, it wasn’t just “trick or treat!” Kids would tell jokes to get candy.

“How does a ghost say hello?”

“How do you boo!”

My s/o’s grandson, repeatedly, at Living History Farms Family Halloween and Blank Park Zoo Night Eyes…

At the time, a friend from Illinois who had also just moved to Iowa (we both moved to work at the same place) told me he heard it was so the adults could go drink and party on Halloween night without running over trick-or-treaters. I suppose that seemed plausible, so that is what I believed.

I did learn a bit more over the years. For instance, Wikipedia has an entry on the subject:

Beggars Night – Wikipedia

They say it is “Beggars Night” or “Beggars’ Niight,” and mention it is also a thing in a handful of other cities — including Houston, Texas which is where I grew up! (Not a true Beggars Night — just one “small neighborhood” that decided to stop giving candy to kids outside their neighborhood, and they did so by doing it the night before and not doing anything on the 31st.)

Over the years, I do remember reading articles (possible in Des Moines Register) that did not actually know why it existed here, but that changed in 2000 when this was published (and republished in 2015, it seems):

Why Des Moines goes trick-or-treating on Beggars’ Night, not Halloween (desmoinesregister.com)

Halloween vandalism in the 1930s created generations of kids not experiencing the Halloween night tradition of trick-or-treating.

Happy Beggars/Beggars’ Night, everyone! Tonight and tomorrow (Halloween) are the final two nights with haunted attractions operating in the area. Get out there and boo something fun before the Christmas decorations take over…

Waukee posts Beggar’s Night guidelines.

The City of Waukee recently announced it was cancelling this year’s haunted house, but noted that Beggar’s Night was still a go. Today they updated their website with CDC guidance about how this year’s trick-or-treating will go. Check it out here:


The Iowa Department of Public Health has a tip sheet with recomendations:


“Stay safe!” (What an odd thing to say when a clown with a chainsaw is going to be chasing you…)