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Christmas Pickle Tradition: Three Theories

Christmas Pickle Tradition: Three Theories

The Christmas Pickle tradition is another way of making the holidays exciting. It involves hiding an ornamental pickle (pickle-shaped ornament) in the branches of the Christmas tree while others try to find it.

Typically, the pickle is hidden in the tree on Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas Day, the participants – usually family members – try to find the pickle-shaped ornament. Whoever finds the ornament wins and gets an extra gift. Sometimes, the finder wins the honor of opening the first present. Also, in some versions of the Christmas Pickle tradition, the finder is believed to get an extra year of good luck.

While its true origin is debated, some say it may have stemmed from a German Christmas tradition. It even goes by the name Weihnachtsgurke, which means Christmas Pickle. But then, the tradition is not quite as popular as expected in Germany. So, the talks of it emanating from Germany may not really be accurate.

Why Christmas Pickles Are Hung from Trees

Since the origins of the Christmas Pickle tradition are inconclusive, there’s no definitive reason why Christmas Pickles are hung from trees. However, the tale of a Bavarian Union Army soldier held prisoner in Andersonville, Georgia, maybe the closest.

The soldier, ill and starving, convinced one of the guards to give him a pickle before he died. The pickle rejuvenated him. So, when he finally returned home, he started a tradition of hanging/hiding pickles on the Christmas tree. It’s unclear if he and his family used real pickles or ornamental pickles. But then, they could have used ornamental pickles since they were already available during that period.

The veracity of this story is not known. But then, of the popular tales of the origin of the Christmas Pickle tradition, this was the one that actually mentioned the act of hanging pickles on Christmas trees.

Green handmade Christmas pickle ornament

St. Nicholas and the Two Boys Stuck in a Barrel

One of the other popular stories suggests that the tradition stemmed from a situation in which St. Nicholas saved two boys.

In this story, an evil innkeeper traps two Spanish boys in a barrel of pickles. The boys, close to their death (or probably dead), were saved by St. Nicholas when he checked into the same inn. But then, in a different story of St. Nicholas rescuing two boys trapped in a barrel, the barrel was for holding meat. So, this story is contentious.

German Christmas Ornaments

The third popular story of the origin of the Christmas Pickle tradition seems the most probable of the three.

The town of Lauscha, Germany, was famed for its glass ornaments. Many of those ornaments were made in the shape of fruits, nuts, and vegetables and were unique. Not long after they started making these glass ornaments, they were exported to Europe and the US.

Around the 1880s, American merchants started selling imported glass ornaments from Germany. Many of those ornaments may have been shaped like fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Of those ornaments, pickle ornaments may have been abundant. So, to boost their pickle ornament sales, one of the clever retailers must have implied that pickle ornaments were an Old German tradition.

The Christmas Pickle Tradition Started in the US?

In an interesting twist, a German print recently suggested that the Christmas Pickle tradition started in the US and has been a thing for over 110 years.

All the tales and theories hint at one thing – the origin of the Christmas Pickle tradition is unclear. But that shouldn’t be a reason for your family not to partake in this fun, whimsical Christmas tradition.

Where You Can Find Christmas Pickle Ornaments

I bought this Christmas pickle ornament on Amazon. However, you can get them almost everywhere where you can find tree ornaments, in physical stores like Walmart Supercenters, home decor shops, or at Christmas markets.

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