Christmas is a time of traditions. As I decorate our home this week I am reminded of one many of you have probably never heard of: the Christmas Pickle. The story is that this is an old German custom. You hang a glass ornament shaped like a pickle on the tree and the first child to find it gets an extra present. In our case it was something small, like a bag of M&M’s. If parents couldn’t afford to purchase an extra gift, that child was allowed to open presents first.
Actually, the origin of this tradition is rather murky. The ornament may have first appeared in the United States in the 1880s. Woolworth stores were importing glass ornaments from Germany in the shapes of different fruits and vegetables. It’s possible a pickle was among those ornaments. The thing is, most Germans have never heard of this tradition.
There are two other possible origins of the Christmas pickle, both equally odd. The first goes back to the American Civil War. A soldier who was born in Bavaria was taken prisoner. Starving, his last request was to have one last pickle before he died. The guard granted his request and presumably this pickle so buoyed the man’s resolve that he had the mental and physical strength to live.
The second is linked to St. Nicholas and takes us back to the medieval tale of two Spanish boys. The boys were traveling home from school for the holidays. On their journey, they stopped at an inn for the night. The evil innkeeper murdered the boys and hid their bodies in a pickle barrel. However, St. Nicholas stopped at the inn that night, found the boys’ bodies in the barrel, and brought them back to life. There is a different legend of St. Nicholas saving two boys from a barrel, but that barrel held meat for pies and not pickles.
No matter where the tradition began, I know it was something my children looked forward to every year. They’re adults now and I still get asked about the pickle!
Oh, and in case you were wondering where the Christmas Pickle Capital of the world is located, it’s Berrien Springs, Michigan. They hold a Christmas pickle festival in early December every year.
For more fun facts on Christmas traditions, go to www.whychristmas.com/customs