The Village - The little-known story of the holiday pickle ornament

Helping to raise parents with our own blend of parenting stories, advice and cool finds.
The village: helping raise parents with our own blend of parenting stories, advice, hacks and cool finds
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FAMILY

The little-known story of the holiday pickle ornament

By Karen Robock

If you’re confounded by the phrase “Christmas Pickle,” hold on to your salty snacks and read on! (It’s a tradition that just might be worth trying.)

If you’ve got one of these on your Christmas tree, it's probably a pretty big dill at your house. I, however, am new to this peculiar tradition. A few years ago, someone gifted me a glittery green glass pickle and my first reaction was why?!

I’ve yet to hang it on my family tree because I didn’t quite get it. I read on the package that it was a game where I was supposed to hide the pickle in the tree for my kids to find. But again, I thought, why?! I don’t even like pickles!

That said, now that I’ve done a little research, I’m kind of intrigued by the history of the Christmas Pickle –– and the gherkin-themed game. Here’s everything you’ll need to know too if you want to introduce this silly diversion to your Christmas morning.

Where did the Christmas Pickle tradition start?

Some say it has roots in Germany where it was originally called Weihnachtsgurke. But it seems that many Germans have never heard of this custom. The tradition is very popular in the US Midwest, though, where there are a number of German settlements. The town of Berrien Springs, in Michigan state, is the self-proclaimed “Christmas Pickle Capital of the World” and plays host to an annual Christmas Pickle Festival.

But why a pickle?

Figuring out the actual origin story of this ornament is, well, a bit of a pickle. There are several stories circulating about the significance and beginnings of the Christmas Pickle, but it could be as simple as some smart holiday marketing.

Late 19th century German glassblowers made all sorts of Christmas tree ornaments, often in the shapes of fruits and vegetables. It’s possible that someone along the way started making pickles, which caught on for whatever reason and then got picked up by North American five-and-dime stores back in the day. Some allege that the stores created a game, and a bit of lore, to go with their goods.

There are also a few tall tales about the beginnings of the festive gherkin. One involves St. Nicholas freeing some boys who were trapped in a pickle barrel by an evil innkeeper. (I’m still no clear on the why or how, though.) Some claim it all started with a US Civil War soldier with German roots who was being held captive. It’s said he was given a pickle, which sustained him until he could be freed.

How can we play, too?

How ever it got started, many families love the tradition. If you’d like to get in on the salty action, first you need to decide on your household rules for the game. Does the finder of the Christmas Pickle secure the coveted job of handing out gifts? Or do they get to open a gift first? Or are they rewarded with a Pickle Gift?

(My family is opting into the Pickle Gift version. Because, more gifts!) I’m told the special present can be anything, but most families opt for something inexpensive but crowd-pleasing like chocolates, a gag gift like a hideous Christmas hat, or something else so tacky that nobody could possibly want it (but, of course, everybody will).

On Christmas Eve, after the children are asleep, the wrapped pickle gift is placed under the tree, while the Christmas Pickle itself is hidden in the boughs. In the morning, the kids are challenged to spot the festive gherkin. The first to find it wins the prize. It’s a challenge because the green pickle blends in so well with the branches. And no doubt because everyone is so bleary-eyed at the 5am wake up. Or maybe that’s just at my house?

Now all I need to do is unpack that pretty pickle –– and find a truly tacky Pickle Gift. I’m thinking a jar of pickles wrapped in an ugly Christmas sweater!

FAMILY

The little-known story of the holiday pickle ornament

By Karen Robock

If you’re confounded by the phrase “Christmas Pickle,” hold on to your salty snacks and read on! (It’s a tradition that just might be worth trying.)

If you’ve got one of these on your Christmas tree, it's probably a pretty big dill at your house. I, however, am new to this peculiar tradition. A few years ago, someone gifted me a glittery green glass pickle and my first reaction was why?!

I’ve yet to hang it on my family tree because I didn’t quite get it. I read on the package that it was a game where I was supposed to hide the pickle in the tree for my kids to find. But again, I thought, why?! I don’t even like pickles!

That said, now that I’ve done a little research, I’m kind of intrigued by the history of the Christmas Pickle –– and the gherkin-themed game. Here’s everything you’ll need to know too if you want to introduce this silly diversion to your Christmas morning.

Where did the Christmas Pickle tradition start?

Some say it has roots in Germany where it was originally called Weihnachtsgurke. But it seems that many Germans have never heard of this custom. The tradition is very popular in the US Midwest, though, where there are a number of German settlements. The town of Berrien Springs, in Michigan state, is the self-proclaimed “Christmas Pickle Capital of the World” and plays host to an annual Christmas Pickle Festival.

But why a pickle?

Figuring out the actual origin story of this ornament is, well, a bit of a pickle. There are several stories circulating about the significance and beginnings of the Christmas Pickle, but it could be as simple as some smart holiday marketing.

Late 19th century German glassblowers made all sorts of Christmas tree ornaments, often in the shapes of fruits and vegetables. It’s possible that someone along the way started making pickles, which caught on for whatever reason and then got picked up by North American five-and-dime stores back in the day. Some allege that the stores created a game, and a bit of lore, to go with their goods.

There are also a few tall tales about the beginnings of the festive gherkin. One involves St. Nicholas freeing some boys who were trapped in a pickle barrel by an evil innkeeper. (I’m still no clear on the why or how, though.) Some claim it all started with a US Civil War soldier with German roots who was being held captive. It’s said he was given a pickle, which sustained him until he could be freed.

How can we play, too?

How ever it got started, many families love the tradition. If you’d like to get in on the salty action, first you need to decide on your household rules for the game. Does the finder of the Christmas Pickle secure the coveted job of handing out gifts? Or do they get to open a gift first? Or are they rewarded with a Pickle Gift?

(My family is opting into the Pickle Gift version. Because, more gifts!) I’m told the special present can be anything, but most families opt for something inexpensive but crowd-pleasing like chocolates, a gag gift like a hideous Christmas hat, or something else so tacky that nobody could possibly want it (but, of course, everybody will).

On Christmas Eve, after the children are asleep, the wrapped pickle gift is placed under the tree, while the Christmas Pickle itself is hidden in the boughs. In the morning, the kids are challenged to spot the festive gherkin. The first to find it wins the prize. It’s a challenge because the green pickle blends in so well with the branches. And no doubt because everyone is so bleary-eyed at the 5am wake up. Or maybe that’s just at my house?

Now all I need to do is unpack that pretty pickle –– and find a truly tacky Pickle Gift. I’m thinking a jar of pickles wrapped in an ugly Christmas sweater!

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