The origins of the Christmas pickle are shrouded in mystery. Some claim the Christmas pickle originated in Germany. Some claim the Christmas pickle was a tradition born in a prison camp during the Civil War. Whatever its origins, the Christmas pickle survives on Christmas trees all across America.
Christmas Pickle Traditions
So just what is a Christmas pickle? For the uninitiated the Christmas pickle is a Christmas ornament that looks like a pickle. Sounds obvious, right?
The pickle ornament is the last thing hung on a Christmas tree. The green ornament blends in with the tree making it difficult to spot. According to tradition, the first child to find the Christmas pickle gets an extra present. Or if no extra presents are available, the finder of the Christmas pickle gets to be the first one to open a present.
That's the only part of the Christmas pickle that almost everyone seems to be in agreement on. The rest of the Christmas pickle story is a tale of conflicting legends.
Origins of the Christmas Pickle
Most people who are familiar with the Christmas pickle claim that the pickle ornament originated from an ancient German tradition. However, if you were to ask an average German, he or she would have no clue what you are talking about. It seems no one in Germany hangs pickles on their Christmas trees. Some other contending stories vie for the origination of the Christmas pickle.
One story claims that the tradition of the Christmas pickle begins in the Middle Ages. According to this version of the Christmas pickle legend, two boys were traveling home for Christmas. When they stopped for the night at an inn, the innkeeper imprisoned them in a pickle barrel. That night, St. Nicholas also stopped at the inn, heard the boys, and freed them from the pickle barrel.
Another story about the origins of the Christmas pickle also has its roots in imprisonment. During the Civil War, John Lower (Lauer) was a prisoner of war in the infamous Andersonville Prison camp in Georgia. According to this story, the Bavarian-born Lower, was starving and asked a guard for a pickle to eat before he died. The guard took pity on the man, found a pickle and gave it to him. According to John Lower's descendents, John said the gift of that pickle gave him hope to live on. Once he was released from prison, Lower began a family tradition of hiding a pickle in the Christmas tree to symbolize the gift that was given to him. This traditions said that the first one to find the pickle would be blessed with good fortune for a year.
While John Lower's German heritage may be the source of the connection between Christmas pickles and Germany (Lower's non-German neighbors may have mistaken his personal tradition for an overall German tradition, there may be a loose connection of the Christmas pickle story to Germany.
|A vintage Christmas pickle|
The town of Lauscha, Germany was renowned for its hand-blown glassware and glass Christmas ornaments. In the late 1840's, glass-blowers in Lauscha began producing glass Christmas tree ornaments in the shape of fruits and vegetables and presumably - pickles. As far Christmas pickles being a German tradition, it seems to be one that is localized and isolated, rather than a widespread national tradition.
Whatever the origins of the Christmas Pickle ornament, the tradition is alive and well today and can add additional fun to the joy and merriment of the holiday season. If you're looking for a new holiday tradition, perhaps the Christmas pickle is for you.