German Pickle Ornament

german pickle ornament
german pickle ornament

How a Christmas tradition turned into a culinary mystery

Kristin G., a former classmate, once shared a story with my fifth-grade class that still resonates with me today. It involved a cherished family Christmas pickle ornament, hidden on the tree for good luck. However, as fate would have it, the ornament slipped from her hand, shattering into a million pieces. Amidst shock, laughter, and tears, this anecdote sparked my curiosity about the origin and significance of the German Christmas pickle.

The fuzzy history of the Christmas pickle

Hanging the Christmas pickle
Hanging the Christmas pickle — Photo courtesy of iStock / Meagan Baker

It appears that German-American families embrace the tradition of the Christmas pickle. St. Nick or a family member hides the pickle on Christmas Eve, and finding it brings an extra present, the right to open the first gift, or a year filled with good luck. This tradition, known as Weihnachtsgurke (“Christmas Eve Cucumber”), has become a cherished part of many holiday celebrations.

Various origin stories surround this tradition. One claims that two Spanish children, murdered by an innkeeper, were hidden in a pickle barrel. St. Nick’s intervention miraculously brought them back to life. Berrien Springs, a town in Michigan known for its cucumber production, even held an annual “Christmas Pickle Parade” to honor this story.

Another story revolves around a German immigrant and soldier held as a prisoner of war during the American Civil War. Close to death, he requested a pickle from a sympathetic guard, leading to his miraculous recovery. However, despite these tales capturing our imagination, it seems that they originated outside of Germany and have not gained significant traction within the country itself.

The big business of selling pickle ornaments

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You’re supposed to hide the pickle on the Christmas tree — Photo courtesy of Getty Images / Dusty Pickle

The quest to uncover the true origins of the German Christmas pickle goes back to the late 19th century. Woolworth’s, an iconic five-and-dime store, imported German-made glass-blown Christmas ornaments, including pickles, to the United States. While the pickles themselves did not hold special significance to the German ornament-makers, their green color blended with evergreen trees, making them difficult to spot.

Historical details may be elusive, but it appears that someone, possibly at Woolworth’s, seized the opportunity to sell surplus pickle ornaments. They crafted a story, linking the pickles to an “ancient German tradition” of hiding them on Christmas trees. These ornamental pickles were accompanied by cards explaining the supposed tradition, sparking the imagination of German-American families seeking to connect with their heritage during the holiday season.

Despite the disillusionment some may feel upon learning that the tradition was born out of marketing ingenuity and a surplus of pickle ornaments, Mrs. Fridman’s words ring true: “What matters about a tradition is not the actual object, whether it’s an ornament, a food, or a song. It’s the people who participate in the tradition and give it life.”

FAQs

Q: Can I use any type of pickle for the Christmas pickle ornament?
A: While the tradition has become synonymous with glass-blown pickle ornaments, you can use a real pickle if you prefer. Just ensure it’s sturdy enough to withstand being hidden and discovered on the tree.

Q: Are there any other German Christmas traditions worth exploring?
A: Absolutely! Germany boasts a rich culinary culture during the holiday season. Some popular traditions include baking gingerbread cookies (Lebkuchen), savoring mulled wine (Gl├╝hwein), and enjoying delicious Stollen and fruitcakes. Discovering these culinary delights can add a touch of German charm to your festive celebrations.

Conclusion

The German Christmas pickle ornament is a testament to the power of tradition and the joy it brings to families during the holiday season. While its true origins may remain elusive, the spirit of celebration and togetherness it embodies transcends its humble beginnings. So, whether you choose to hang a glass-blown pickle ornament or embark on a culinary exploration of German holiday traditions, embrace the joy and creativity that comes with celebrating the magic of food and culture.

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