Every Christmas for as long as I can remember, my family has hidden a pickle ornament in our Christmas tree. Whoever is the first to find the pickle gets to open the first present, as well as decide if we start with wrapped presents or stockings. This tradition is very near and dear to my heart, and I knew many people in my hometown who participated in this tradition.
Then, I came to college and mentioned this, and most people didn’t know what I was talking about. I thought everyone did this for Christmas! To enlighten you and bring you some extra Christmas joy this holiday season, I knew I had to spread the word.
Let me tell you, I was not expecting to learn this when I began research: the myth of the pickle ornament being an old German tradition, as I knew it, is totally false!
As it turns out, the hanging and finding of the pickle in the Christmas tree is a German-American tradition made up during the late 1900s. Some people think it had to do with marketing for Woolworths, one of the first “five-and-dime” stores in America, in the 1890s to push glass ornaments coming from Germany. This company was the first to import glass pickle ornaments into the U.S. and are the ones responsible for the localized popularity of the ornament now.
Funnily enough, “despite the evidence showing that the tradition did not originate in Germany, the concept of Christmas pickles has since been imported from the United States and they are now on sale in the country traditionally associated with it.”
There is even a word for this tradition, which was new information for me! The word is “Weihnachtsgurke” which translates directly to “Christmas Cucumber.”
There are even some tales to go along with this falsified German tradition:
“A descendant of a soldier who fought in the American Civil War, John Lower… born in Bavaria in 1842, wrote to tell about a family story that had to do with a Christmas pickle. According to family lore, ‘John Lower was captured and sent to prison in Andersonville, Georgia. …In poor health and starving, he begged a guard for just one pickle before he died. The guard took pity on him and found a pickle for John Lower. According to family legend, John said that the pickle – by the grace of God – gave him the mental and physical strength to live on. Once he was reunited with his family he began a tradition of hiding a pickle on the Christmas tree. The first person who found the pickle on Christmas morning would be blessed with a year of good fortune.’”
“Two Spanish children were murdered by an innkeeper, who then hid their bodies in a pickle barrel. St. Nick came along, tapped on the barrel with his cane, and the kids miraculously came back to life.
As shocked as I was to learn that my long-loved family tradition didn’t have the Germanic roots I thought it did, this somehow made me love it even more. I always think that traditions have to be really old, or really profound, in order to be valid. But this has reminded me that traditions are just cute quirks of humanity where many people say “Hey, should we do this, like, every year?”
It’s a nice step back from the stress of the holiday season to remember that we are all just searching for community, shared stories and shared traditions in this time. Regardless of the lack of old tradition backing up this festivity, will you join in on the modern tradition of pickle fun? Purchase a pickle ornament for your loved ones here.