What’s a Christmas pickle? The tradition you haven’t heard of but will want to start now

What’s a Christmas pickle? The tradition you haven’t heard of but will want to start now

December 23, 2018

The Christmas pickle is hidden on the tree on Christmas Eve. The tree’s green pine needles make it especially hard to find on Christmas morning. The person who does gets a special treat. (Photo: DustyPixel, Getty Images)

What’s a Christmas pickle?

Rest assured, it’s not just some trendy thing foodies celebrate at Christmas.

They are those dark-green ornaments shaped like pickles you’ve seen – but maybe never noticed – for sale among all the snowmen, Santas and colored orbs.

And they’re more than just a cute ornament. They’re a time-honored tradition that you might not have heard of until now but will want to start this year.

What is the Christmas Pickle tradition?

It’s an ornament shaped like a pickle that families treat as a game. On Christmas Eve, parents hide the ornament deep on the tree branches. The tree’s pine needles camouflage the green pickle, making it especially hard to find.

On Christmas morning, the first kid to find the pickle is rewarded. Some families let the person who discovered the pickle open the first present. Others have a special gift that goes to the pickle-finder. It’s also believed that a special blessing or good luck will come to the one-who-finds-the-pickle in the coming year.

Whatever the outcome, capturing the pickle is kind of a big dill.

MORE: This SNL skit with Matt Damon nails what Christmas is really like for parents

Did the Christmas pickle tradition come from Germany?

The common tale told of the Christmas pickle, or Weihnachtsgurke, is that it’s an Old World tradition that started in Germany. It’s a yarn that’s printed on the packaging when you buy an ornament.

The only problem with that story is that most Germans have never heard of a Christmas pickle.

In December 2016, a YouGov survey found that 91 percent of Germans had never heard of the ‘Weihnachtsgurke,’ let alone had one in their own homes.

So where did it come from then?

The common tale of the Christmas pickle is that it started in Germany. But a 2016 survey of Germans found more than 90 percent of people in the country had never heard of a Christmas pickle. (Photo: Meagan Baker, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

There are several popular theories, none of which are definitive. So, like your favorite superhero’s origin story, you get to pick which variation you like best.

The starving Civil War solider theory

The story goes that a captured Union Army soldier was starving in a prison camp. On Christmas Eve, he begged a guard for a pickle. The guard obliged, which the solider said sustained him and essentially saved his life. After returning home, the solider began the tradition of hanging a pickle on his family’s tree each Christmas Eve.

The weird one with St. Nicholas, two boys and a barrel of pickles

The tale is that an evil innkeeper trapped two boys inside a barrel of pickles. St. Nicholas found the boys and freed them. The boys were able to make it home for Christmas dinner.

The one that has to do with making money

Germans have a long tradition of making glass ornaments, which became popular in America in the 1880s after Woolworth stores started selling the imported decorations. It seems some of the ornaments were in the shape of fruits and vegetables. Perhaps there was an abundance of pickles and a clever salesman came up with the “It’s an Old World German tradition” story to sell them to the many Americans with German ancestry.

Where can I find a Christmas pickle of my own?

If you’re in America, practically anywhere that sells ornaments. Major retailers like Target, Walmart and Amazon all sell them. I’ve seen them at dollar stores, too. Search “Christmas pickle ornament” online and you’ll find them advertised by such sellers as Pier 1, Bed Bath & Beyond, Crate and Barrel and eBay.

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