A few years ago I received a lovely, if curious, gift from my secret Santa. I had not yet heard about the German pickle ornament tradition. My friend shared that the pickle is the last ornament put on the tree on Christmas Eve. Parents hide it deep in the branches, and the first child to find the pickle on Christmas morning gets an extra present from Santa Claus. Seems like a great way to stave off little kids eager to open every present at once. I couldn't believe that I'd never encountered such a fun ritual. Poor me, deprived child! I have some German roots, why had I never heard of it?
Die Weihnachtsgurke, as it's also known, may actually be a German-American tradition, as it seems most people in Germany have never heard of it. So where then, could this tradition have begun?
We turned up a few possible origins for this legend. The first is propagated by the good people in Berrien Springs, Michigan, the self-proclaimed "Christmas Pickle Capital" of the world, complete with a festival and Grand Dillmeister. Their story claims Medieval origins, and traces two Spanish boys who were on their way home from boarding school. When they stopped to stay at an Inn, the mean Inn keeper stuffed them into a pickle barrel. When St. Nicholas passed by, he touched the barrel with his staff and set them free.
The second legend has American roots. A Bavarian-born soldier who fought in the Civil War was captured and imprisoned in Georgia. Dying, he begged for one last thing: a pickle. The guard took pity and gave him his last wish. The pickle gave the soldier the physical and emotional strength to live and eventually return to his family.
Here at Ohdeedoh, we're trying to put the mystery to rest. Does it actually date to the Middle Ages, did it start with a soldier, or was it a "tradition" brought to America via Germany in an effort to sell more glass ornaments? Did you grow up with a pickle on your tree? Do you do this with your children? Poll your German friends. Do they know anything about the pickle ornament legend, or is it just a myth?
Find the ornament above at the Shelburne Country Store.