Every family has heirloom holiday ornaments with special meanings and stories like grandma’s vintage ornaments, baby’s first Christmas, our first Christmas together, etc. But have you heard about hanging a little glass pickle on the Christmas tree? It’s a popular tradition for many, while others have never heard of it …. So what’s all this pickle business about, and how did this unique tradition begin?
In the 1880s and 1890s, Woolworth stores began selling glass holiday ornaments imported from Germany, including ornaments featuring fruits and vegetables. At first, it was claimed that the tradition of the Christmas pickle, or weihnachtsgurke, was a German one, but few Germans have ever heard of this ornament having any special place or traditions associated with it. It’s likely that the “tradition” was a clever invention by an enterprising salesman with the hopes that a charming tale would lead to more sales of these unusual ornaments.
Though its origins are fictional, there are several variations of what the Christmas pickle has come to mean either in legend or as a holiday tradition. In many households, a pickle ornament is hidden among the boughs of the Christmas tree, the first child to find the dangling treat receives an extra gift, a special treat, or they may have the honor of passing out the gifts on Christmas morning.
There are several legends about this cute little green delight. One Christmas pickle legend is that a German-born soldier during the American Civil War was a prisoner of war in Georgia. While on the verge of starvation and death on Christmas Eve, the prisoner begged a guard for one last pickle. The guard gave the solider his requested pickle and that pickle gave him the strength to persevere till the war was over. After the war, when the soldier returned home, he began hanging a pickle on his tree every Christmas season.
Another legend connects the Christmas pickle to the Spreewald region of Germany, southeast of Berlin, where cucumbers are grown and pickled. This region is renowned for its specialty gherkins, but before the pickles were so prized, the legend goes that residents were so poor that they would only have pickles to hang on their Christmas trees. When they emigrated to the New World, they brought their pickle ornaments with them.
Finally, the most basic traditional meaning of the Christmas pickle is simply that it brings good fortune to anyone who finds it on the tree, ensuring good blessings through the holiday season and in the year to come.
The Christmas pickle, regardless of its meaning, has become one of the most popular ornaments on holiday trees throughout the United States. For a number of years, Berrien Springs, Michigan—a small village in the southwestern corner of the state that was largely settled by German immigrants and produces pickles to this day—declared itself the Christmas Pickle Capital of the World and held an annual holiday festival featuring pickles. While the town still holds an annual holiday fest, the pickle festival has been moved to summer, when residents and visitors alike can enjoy fun events like the pickle fling, pickle relay race, pickle tasting, pickle decorating, and a variety of other activities, crafts, and music.
No matter how you view the Christmas pickle, it can be a fun tradition for every family to enjoy.