Every Christmas for as long as I can remember, there has been a palm-sized, metallic green pickle ornament hanging on my family’s Christmas tree. This ornament is always the last one to find its way onto the tree and the first one taken off. Growing up, my sister and I, being highly competitive, would always race down the stairs on Christmas morning to be the first one to find the pickle hidden amongst the branches of pine and strings of lights. The tradition, as my family knew it, was that the first child to find the ornament would acquire an additional gift, as well as good luck for the year (and bragging rights, of course). Many speculations about the origin of this peculiar Christmas tradition exist, yet no one quite knows the full reasoning behind the tradition of this festive pickle.
My family picked up this tradition when I was young after learning about it in the Germany pavilion of Walt Disney World’s EPCOT Center. Some argue that the tradition began in Germany, yet many Germans are unaware of this holiday practice that has been widely attributed to their culture. Others suggest that the pickle is symbolic of a soldier who found himself imprisoned during the American Civil War. The legend says that this soldier, who was of Bavarian descent, was dying and requested a single pickle before his passing, which he was then given by a compassionate guard. The story claims that this pickle gave the soldier the strength, both physically and mentally, to continue on and survive. Another legend claims that the pickle is representative of a story involving St. Nicholas and two young Spanish boys. The boys are said to have been travelling home for the holidays when they stopped at an inn to rest. At the inn, the boys were stuffed inside of a pickle barrel by a cruel man until St. Nicholas came and saved them.
The tradition of hanging ornaments on trees in itself, whether they be shaped like preserved vegetables or not, is an interesting topic. The first Christmas trees in Germany were decorated primarily with edible things such as fruit and gingerbread, so glassmakers began to make glass versions of these perishable items. The tradition of the Christmas pickle ties in once again with this history, as some say glassmakers created a surplus of pickle-shaped ornaments one season. In order to sell all of these leftover ornaments, some believe that they created the legend of the pickle in order to spark interest in this particular form of ornament. Regardless of the origin, the Christmas pickle remains a fun tradition in many families (especially in Berrien Springs, Mich., which considers itself the Christmas Pickle Capital of the World). The ceremonial hunt for the pickle hidden deep within the Christmas tree allows for families and friends to come together and enjoy the company of one another and truly appreciate their time together.