If you are like me, you may be laughing out loud, or completely embarrassed that you have never even heard of the infamous Christmas Pickle Tradition. That being said, maybe you have heard of it, but know little to nothing about it. Rest assured. This article will go into depth on the origins, history, and the tradition itself.
In a Nutshell
Tradition has it that the a pickle Christmas tree ornament is hidden on the Christmas tree. Come Christmas Day, the first person to find the pickle ornament hanging delicately on a branch of the Christmas tree gets rewarded. They might get to open the first present, or they get an extra present. But who started this tradition, where did it start, and when did it start? What do the Christmas ornaments look like?
The actual origins of the Christmas pickle tradition are still widely unknown (maybe, just maybe, you know the truth!). Some say that the tradition originated in Germany, probably because it is common knowledge that Germans love their pickles. Regardless of the origins, however, it is said that last ornament to be placed on the tree was the pickle ornament, and it was hidden. But, the belief that the tradition began in Germany seems unlikely, considering there are many people in Germany who have never even heard of the enchanting Christmas Pickle Tradition.
Another story has its roots in Germany. There was a soldier named Pvt. John C. Lower who fought for the Union side in the bloody American Civil War. This soldier was born in Bavaria, which is a region that is now part of Germany. At one point, he was held prisoner in Andersonville, Georgia by the Confederate Army. He was starving and fighting for his life. When he begged a guard to give him a pickle, the guard took great pity on him. Family legend has it that Pvt. John C. Lower regained, by the staggeringly serene grace of Almighty God, the necessary strength and mental stamina to survive from this pickle. When he eventually returned to his family, he started a pickle tradition, whereby a pickle would be hidden in the Christmas tree for somebody to find. The finder would have success and good fortune for the year to come.
Yet another story, based on a medieval tale, is often told in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Berrien Springs has been recognized as the Capital of the world for the Christmas Pickle, celebrating with an annual pickle festival during the first part of December. The tale has it that St. Nicholas saved two Spanish boys. They went to boarding school and were going home for the holidays. On their way home, they stayed at an inn, where the evil innkeeper killed them and placed them in a pickle barrel. St. Nicholas found the boys in the barrel when he stopped at the same inn, and he brought them back to life. But, legend has it that the barrel was full of meat for pies, and not pickles. Hmm.
The most likely story, however, has it this way, and makes sense with the two tales. In the late 1800s, F.W. Woolworth Co. stores started selling glass ornaments in the United States, imported from Germany. Some of them came in the shapes of fruits and vegetables. When pickles were imported, it might have been assumed that pickle ornaments were part of a Germany tradition – you know, since Germans love their pickles. It might very well be possible, however, that the company had an excess of pickle ornaments, and they made up stories to increase their sales. In any case, both tales gained traction right around the end of the 19th century, when it is thought that pickle ornaments made their first appearance in the United States.
Origins of the Christmas Pickle Tradition
The truth may never be known about the enchanting Christmas Pickle tradition. But, remember how glass Christmas ornaments were being hand-crafted and hand-produced in Germany, and then carefully imported across the ocean to the United States of America in the 1800s? Well, history books show that, as early as 1597, glass-blowing happened in a small town called Lauscha. Lauscha is located in a German state, which is called Thuringia. The town is known for their glass-blowing. Glass-blowers would produce glass containers and drinking glasses. In 1847, a few of the craftsmen from Lauscha began producing glass ornaments, called Glasschmuck. They were crafted in the shape of various commonplace fruits, and tree nuts.
The process to produce these unique glass ornaments involves hand blowing and molds. Soon after the ornaments were made, they were exported to all parts of Europe, England, and also the United States.
Nowadays, you can find Lauscha-made glass pickle ornaments, imported from Germany to the United States. While it still seems that many Germans have never even heard of such a tradition as the Christmas Pickle Tradition, these pickle ornaments are nevertheless sold alongside a “German” tradition story. All that we can find is that the pickle ornaments have been sold in various parts of Germany, especially located in the regions that lead from Höxter, North Rhine-Westphalia, all the way through and to Kissing, Bavaria. Perhaps the Germans are just very good at keeping a secret a secret.
How popular is this tradition?
With all the ambiguity surrounding the tradition, and the blank stares that often accompany those who are faced with with the question of the tradition, how popular is the tradition? A YouGov survey concluded that only 7% of Germans had ever heard of the tradition, also known as “Weihnachtsgurke,” and only about 2-6% of Germans (with children), who know about the tradition, even practice the tradition!
That being said, in the early 1980s, a shop called Old World Christmas started selling these traditional, mouth-blown glass pickle ornaments (along with other glass-blown ornaments) that are made in Lausch, Germany. The pickle ornament has been their best-seller for the last 37 years. They sold more than 25,000 in 2017. As for the tale that is printed on the packaging, the company founder Tim Merck could have come up with it himself. We may never know.
What do the pickle ornaments look like?
The pickle ornaments look like, well, pickles. They are made from shiny or matte green glass (rather than actual pickles). Some can be very detailed, others less so. Others might be personified with eyes and a mouth and dressed in hats and scarves. Still another ornament is a couple of pickle slices.
Where can one buy a pickle ornament?
You can buy traditional pickle Christmas ornaments online at various sites, including Amazon and other smaller shops. It might be interesting to take a moment and read the sites’ own story as to the origins and traditions of the infamous Christmas Pickle ornament!
So there you have it. While we do not have a definite answer as to the actual story behind the Christmas pickle, it might be more exciting to accept it as a mystery. Regardless, the tradition can still carry on: hang the pickle ornament up last, and hide it. The first person to find it will be sure to have good fortune for the coming year.