Germans take credit for a lot of popular Christmas traditions and decorations. Whether it’s the Christmas tree, nutcrackers, incense smoker men or the Advent calendars – they all originated in Germany.
But NOT so the famous Christmas pickle!
Even though finding a pickle in the decorated Christmas tree may be an enjoyable tradition, it doesn’t come from Germany. In fact, I was surprised to hear about this silly custom when I had just moved to the US. As most other Germans, I had never even heard about such custom.
Here’s what the legend says:
The Christmas pickle is not a real pickle but a Christmas ornament that looks like one. It’s hidden somewhere on the decorated tree on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning, the children in the house look for the pickle. The one who finds it first receives an additional Christmas present by St. Nicholas, plus was said to have special luck in the upcoming new year.
Where does the German Christmas pickle legend come from?
There are multiple theories about that.
No. 1: The most common one is about a sick soldier whose life was saved by a pickle: During the Civil War, a soldier, Hans Lauer (John Lower) of Bavarian descent was incarcerated. The guy was in poor health and dying. As his last wish, he begged the guard to give him a pickle. Within the following weeks after eating the pickle, he regained his health. Once back home, he started hiding a pickle on the Christmas to share his luck and fortune.
No. 2: Another legend: Supposedly, this happened in Berrien Springs, MI. Two Spanish boys, who were on their way home for Christmas from boarding school, got kidnapped while staying at an inn overnight. The owner trapped them in a pickle barrel. The same night, St. Nicholas stopped at that inn and freed those two boys.
Today Berrien Springs calls itself the Christmas pickle capital of the world. The have an annual Christmas Pickle Festival, where the “Dill Meister” passed out fresh pickles during the parade.
However, how this possibly relates to Germany is not clear to me.
No. 3: Beginning of the 20th century, many people didn’t have the means to buy real Christmas ornaments, in particular during the years of the depression. So they improvised and used fruits such as nuts, apples and dried berries. But hidden deep in the tree branches, was a fresh pickle. The child who found this pickle first, was the lucky one in the family who receive a Christmas gift that year.
Why a pickle? …because it’s a cheap and keeps for months.
How Germans explain this Christmas pickle legend:
By now, Germans got curious about this odd Christmas tradition. Therefore they did some research on their own. Here’s what they came up with:
The site of crime is the small town Lauscha in Thuringia. It is the heart of the Christmas ornament glass blowing. In fact, the first hand-blown glass ornaments there were already made in 1847. They mostly depicted nuts, fruits and even vegetables and later became Christmas ‘balls’.
When in 1880, F.W. Woolworth (initial owner of the famous Woolworth department store chain) ordered his first shipment of Christmas ornaments from Germany, a few of those legendary green pickle glass ornaments might have been among them.
It is proven that the first-ever, hand-blown glass Christmas pickle was made in Lauscha around 1900.
When Americans decorated their Christmas trees with those made-in-Germany glass ornaments, they automatically assumed that there was also a German tradition behind those ornament shapes, not just a clever marketing strategy. 🙂
Over the past 20 years
Finally this American tradition has made it back to its “origins”. In recent years, more and more Germans have become interested in this whimsical, legendary Christmas pickle and add this ornament to their trees now.
Whether you believe any of these legends or not, it’s a great way to add a little, special touch to the Christmas holidays. Every one of us can use hope and luck in our future!
*Images from Pinterest