The Story Behind the German Pickle Ornament
The tradition of the Christmas Pickle has got to be one of the most bizarre modern “German” Christmas traditions because no one is quite sure why it exists at all!
The essence of it is that sometime before Christmas, a glass pickle ornament is hidden in the branches of a Christmas tree. Then, the first child to find the pickle on Christmas morning gets a special treat, gift or they get to open the first gift.
So where and why did this tradition start? There are several stories about the roots of the Pickle Ornament tradition… so here we go.
- A story about a creative immigrant
In the 1890s, German immigrants were coming into America, bringing with them many customs and traditions, one of them being the Christmas Tree. Stores, including Woolworths started carrying new ornament to decorate the trees. Among the a variety of glass vegetables were a large quantity of pickle ornaments that no one was buying. So, some smarty pants in marketing turned on their thinking cap and created a legend of the Christmas Pickle… and the green glass pickles flew off the shelves. Suddenly, this German Tradition became a big hit!
- Hungry soldier story
There is another story, about a Bavarian-born Civil War soldier, Private John C Lower, who was captured and held in a Confederate Army prison camp. On Christmas Eve, the starving Private begged the guard for a pickle. He claimed it saved his life, and every year from then on he hid a pickle in his Christmas tree…
- The dark Christmas related miracle story
Believe it or not, there is a miracle pickle story and oddly... it is Spanish, NOT German. It seems that two Spanish boys were returning home when they stopped at an Inn for the night. The Innkeeper killed them and stuffed their bodies in a pickle barrel (told you it got dark). As luck would have it, St Nicholas happened to be staying at the very same Inn, found the boys, and brought them back to life. It doesn’t explain why St. Nicholas was looking into the pickle barrel in the first place…but then, this is a miracle story.
Interestingly enough, this tradition is hardly known in Germany. In 2016, market research firm YouGov conducted a survey among German nationals and found that only 8 percent knew about the Christmas pickle tradition, and only 2 percent said they actually practice it.
What do you think about these stories? Which one do you think is the most possible? Or is this all just a marketing conspiracy of retailers? Let us know in the comments below.
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As always, ideas and opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own. - Erika