Why Potatoes Are Given Out On Halloween In Western New York
While the overwhelming majority of people get candy on Halloween, we found out that some trick-or-treaters get potatoes.
Why is that?
It is not because that house ran out of candy and they panicked, but rather it may have cultural significance behind it. And the backstory may just make you enjoy that potato more than you have in recent years.
If you have ever gone trick or treating in South Buffalo, you may remember there were a few houses that gave out potatoes on Halloween.
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We took a poll on Facebook at 106.5 WYRK to see what kind of non-candy items Western New York trick-or-treaters have received over the years, and it turns out there are a lot of people who remember getting potatoes on Halloween.
“My uncle used to give me potatoes all the time for Halloween,” one woman told us on WYRK. “I honestly have no idea [why].”
Well, those potatoes may have more cultural significance than we may have realized initially.
Who Invented Halloween?
As many Western New Yorkers know, South Buffalo has a very large Irish population, but…did you know that the Irish are known for inventing Halloween?
Halloween began as “a pagan celebration over 2,000 years ago in Ireland,” according to Dorset College Dublin. It was known as the Celtic festival of “Samhain,” which typically would celebrate the annual harvest and the coming of winter.
But if Halloween was invented in Ireland, how did it get to the United States?
Potatoes Led The Irish To Immigrate, Bringing The Halloween Tradition With Them
Halloween was brought to the United States following a massive Irish immigration in the 1840s…and if you’re Irish, you already know that was the Irish Potato Famine, otherwise known as the “Great Famine.”
In 1845, the potato crop failed all across Ireland due to late blight, a disease that destroys both the leaves and the edible roots of the potato plant.
As a result, the people of Ireland were not able to survive and many of them died of starvation. Other Irish residents, approximately a third of the population, were forced to immigrate to other countries that had more favorable food opportunities, and about 1.5 million Irish came to the United States.
When Irish immigrants came to the United States, they brought their Halloween traditions with them. These traditions included many of the ones you recognize today, like dressing up in costumes, but back in the day, you didn’t always ask for a treat. Some of the original trick-or-treaters used to go door to door, asking their neighbors for food and money.
Remember, Halloween started at a festival that celebrated the annual harvest, when crops were collected from the farm fields.
The Real Reason You May Receive A Potato For Halloween
Now this is the part where I am hypothesizing, but stay with me here….
Maybe the potatoes are given out by Irish families who want to remember their roots. They want to remember the Irish history of how Halloween was brought to the United States and their culture, and the Irish in South Buffalo (and around Western New York) may want to share that with trick or treaters when they give out potatoes this year.
So if you get a potato on Halloween, say “Thank you.” Because if it weren’t for the Irish, Halloween may never have existed in the United States.
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