NATIONWIDE — Like many, my family partakes in the tradition of hiding a pickle ornament in our Christmas Tree each year. This fun little thing started in my household about eleven years ago when my husband and I purchased our first pickle ornament from the long-lost Yankee Candle store that used to sit on Richmond Road. Each year, our kids clamber to the tree on Christmas morning to find the pickle; the ultimate determination as to whom would open the first Christmas present.
This is a tradition upheld in homes across the nation. But where did it all begin?
Theory #1: It’s a German Tradition
The prevailing story for the Christmas pickle’s “origin story” goes back to German. Many claim that this was a German tradition, also called “Weihnachtsgurke.”
However, there is one glaring problem with this: Germans have no idea what we are talking about when we say that the Christmas pickle came from their part of the world.
So, if it is not German in origin, where did it come from?
Theory #2: St. Nicholas and the Two Boys
For Theory #2, we must travel back to medieval Spain.
Allegedly, two boys were traveling home for Christmas celebrations when they stopped off at an inn. The “evil innkeeper” killed the two boys and stuffed their bodies into a pickle barrel. St. Nicholas interceded and resurrected the boys. They were then sent on their way to have Christmas dinner with their families.
Some versions of this story state that the two boys were on their way home to Spain from boarding school when they stopped off at a German inn. Others have this story taking place during the Victorian era.
There is no proof whatsoever regarding this theory and it is a thing of horror rather than Christmas cheer.
Theory #3: The Union Soldier
Another theory goes that during the American Civil War, a Union soldier was in a prisoner-of-war camp. He was starving and, on Christmas, he begged his guard to provide some sustenance for him. The guard obliged, providing him with a single pickle.
The unknown soldier said that the pickle sustained him and “saved his life.” After being released from the camp, the soldier went home and regaled his family with the story of the pickle that saved him. From that point on, the family always hung a pickle in their Christmas tree.
Like the previous two theories, there are a lot of gaps in this story that makes it more a thing of folklore than anything else.
What it All Boils Down To
While all three of the pickle’s “origin stories” are filled with heavy red flags as to the substance behind them, they are all still interesting notes to ponder about this peculiar Christmas tradition.
Some historians have theorized that these false histories came from the late-19th century. Department stores across the United States began selling glass ornaments that were imported from Germany. Among those, there must have been ornaments shaped in various fruits and vegetables; including pickles.
Since the story of simply buying a delicate glass Christmas ornament shaped as a pickle is not as exciting (nor a sustainable financial growth model for selling such an eccentric tree decoration), folklore began attaching itself to the ornament’s origin.
Whatever the history is or how it came to be, there is no doubt that this curious tradition of hiding the fermented cucumber in the Christmas Tree for first dibs on opening a gift is one that has been enjoyed for generations.