Saturday, November 23, 2019


By Mary Davis

Ragamuffin Day was a sort of a Halloween on Thanksgiving in New York City.

Ragamuffin Day sources say they don’t know when this tradition started and others say it started around 1870, a few years after President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, and went through WWII.

On Thanksgiving, New York City children would dress up in ragged clothes and go around begging pedestrian. It was a sort of parade. Others went door to door. Some ragamuffins painted their faces while other donned masks, and so, Ragamuffins were also often known as Maskers.

Apparently at this time, both begging and masquerading were technically forbidden, but that didn’t stop the ragamuffins.

People would give these masquerading beggars pennies or a nickel or an apple or something like that. If bystanders didn’t give alms to the beggars, they became the victim of a practical joke. It could be a fishmonger’s horn blasted in their ear (Ouch!) or being hit over the head with a sock full of flour (Ouch again!) or something else. Sounds a lot like Trick-or-Treat.

Some people, who the ragamuffins came to, would put pennies on their fire so they would be hot when they threw them down from their windows. This seems mean to me, but I imagine it didn’t take long for the pennies to cool off. This New York City tradition that had started out as good humored fun eventually turned into a nuisance.

This from The Hattiesburg News, Hattiesburg, Miss., November 24, 1908.

In the 1920s, the thousands of Ragamuffins carousing around the streets got competition for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

With the dawn of the Great Depression, throwing red-hot pennies from windows or giving them to every ragamuffin beggar in the street became too precious to part with.

In 1930, the New York school superintendent issued an edict to have Ragamuffin Day stop. For the most part it did but remained in areas like the Bronx, Flatbush, Greenpoint, and other places where the subway ended. 

By the late 1930, several organization hosted Thanksgiving parades to discourage ragamuffins.

As Halloween became more popular during the Great Depression, Ragamuffin Day became less popular but did continue into the 1940s. The last reported Ragamuffin parade was in 1956. However, starting in the 1970s, some communities have taken up the tradition again to have ragamuffin parades.

Happy Thanksgiving!

THIMBLES AND THREADS: 4 Love Stories Are Quilted Into Broken Lives
When four women put needle and thread to fabric, will their talents lead to love?
Click HERE to order.

“Bygones” Texas, 1884
Drawn to the new orphan boy in town, Tilly Rockford soon became the unfortunate victim of a lot of Orion Dunbar’s mischievous deeds in school. Can Tilly figure out how to truly forgive the one who made her childhood unbearable? Can this deviant orphan-train boy turned man make up for the misdeeds of his youth and win Tilly’s heart before another man steals her away?

MARY DAVIS s a bestselling, award-winning novelist of over two dozen
titles in both historical and contemporary themes. Her 2018 titles include; "Holly and Ivy" in A Bouquet of Brides Collection (January), Courting Her Amish Heart (March), The Widow’s Plight (July), Courting Her Secret Heart (September), “Zola’s Cross-Country Adventure” in The MISSAdventure Brides Collection (December), and Courting Her Prodigal Heart (January 2019). Coming in 2019, The Daughter's Predicament (May) and "Bygones" in Thimbles and Threads (July). She is a member of ACFW and active in critique groups. Mary lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband of over thirty-four years and two cats. She has three adult children and two incredibly adorable grandchildren. Find her online at:

Newsletter Blog FB FB Readers Group Amazon GoodReads BookBub


  1. Interesting! I'd never heard of this before. It does sound like people didn't want to give up on the Halloween fun, though!

  2. I had never heard of it before either. I was born and raised out West and this was a New York thing, so I'm not surprised.

  3. This was very interesting to me because I'd often hear my mother use the term ragamuffin when I was growing up. However, she used it in an adoring way with affection referring to me and my sister or other children she liked. I never knew where it came from and certainly never heard of any ragamuffin parades. I actually assumed it was a southern colloquialism since my mother was from the south. I have learned something worthwhile today because it was a term used frequently by other adults as well in my childhood. That was a commonly used metaphor for all children in my neighborhood of Philadelphia, PA which was not that very far from New York City. Thank you for sharing such a delightful bit of information.

  4. I, too, heard the term ragamuffin growing up, but also not in the parade and special day way. The term was around before it was used for "Ragamuffin Day". Because it refers to a person, usually a child, in ragged, dirty clothes, this was probably why when Ragamuffin Day started, children dressed us in raggedy clothes. It is fun to learn something new.