AUSTIN (KXAN) — A neighborhood in Southwest Austin starts thinking about Christmas in July, so by the time December rolls around, its lights and decorations are as bright as the Texas summer sun.

It also has a unique way of showing appreciation for a well-done yard: the “Christmas potato.”

Stephanie Novacek lives in the neighborhood south of West William Cannon Drive and west of MoPac Expressway and said she often sees families rolling down their windows and sharing how much they like the lights. But they also sometimes share their gratitude in another way.

“This morning we had a potato thrown on our front lawn,” Novacek said. “The Christmas potato is a tradition where people who appreciate the light display that’s put on for the community
throw a potato just to say thank you for the light display.”

The origin of this tradition started in Kansas, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal, which profiled a man named Riley Couger who first started throwing kindling with notes into yards with festive decor in 1982. Then, the item to be thrown became a potato.

“I grew up in a town called Topeka, which we were always taught meant ‘a good place to dig potatoes,’ so that tied it back to my roots,” Couger told a Dallas NPR affiliate in the early 2000s.

Back in Austin, Novacek said the planning for their decor begins in the summer, when neighbors start texting ideas to one another, culminating in yards, trees, bushes and sidewalks bedazzled in lights. A nativity, an arch welcoming people to the North Pole and even a life-size Santa statue are all part of this year’s decor.

  • group of elves and pop culture icons in santa's workshop
  • santa's workshop featuring charlie brown and snoopy
  • nativity scene
  • Santa in a well-lit yard
  • snowmen in a well-lit yard

As for 2024?

“We already have plans for next year, Novacek said. “We’ll keep those a secret.”