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What is the Tradition of the Christmas Pickle?

arrangement of green pine branches and green glass pickle ornaments
Christmas is a holiday of traditions. Some family customs, like marking the Advent calendar and leaving cookies for Santa, are passed down through generations. One puzzling Christmas tradition, however, involves the Christmas pickle ornament.

What is the Christmas Pickle?

As its name implies, this special ornament is green and shaped like a pickle. There’s usually just one pickle ornament per tree and it can be hard to spot amidst the green branches. However, hiding and searching for the Christmas pickle is exactly the point.

Traditions vary as to who hides the ornament. A child might be given the favor, or a parent might wait until Christmas Eve to hang the pickle in the Christmas tree. Sometimes, Santa hides the pickle ornament.

The first person to find the pickle on Christmas morning often receives a reward. They may earn the honor of passing out the presents or the opportunity to be the first to open their gifts. Finding the pickle ornament also is said to bring good luck.

close up of opaque green glass Christmas pickle ornament

The Legend of the Christmas Pickle

Many people believe the Christmas tree pickle is an old German tradition, but stories explaining the history of the pickle ornament don’t necessarily support this belief. For example, there’s a Christmas pickle legend involving a German-American Civil War prisoner, near death, who begged a guard for a pickle. After eating the pickle, the man miraculously survived. One grisly Christmas pickle story tells of murdered children whose bodies were hidden in a pickle barrel. St. Nick revived them by tapping the barrel with his cane.

Despite these unlikely stories, many Christmas traditions, including decorated Christmas trees and blown glass Christmas ornaments, originated in Germany. Therefore, a German pickle ornament tradition seems reasonable.

On the other hand, certain details about the tradition of the Christmas pickle just don’t add up. For one thing, St. Nicholas visits German children on St. Nicholas Day, December 6. In addition, the pickle ornament is supposed to be hidden on Christmas Eve. However, this is the day German families traditionally open gifts together, so hiding the pickle in the tree afterward doesn’t make sense.

Even more confusing, most Germans don’t know about the Christmas pickle tradition! In November 2016, YouGov discovered that 91% of Germans surveyed were unfamiliar with pickle ornaments. Overall, only 2% of Germans practiced the custom that has become so popular in America.

In fact, according to a New York Times article, one ornament maker from Lauscha, Germany, where blown glass Christmas ornaments originated, only learned about the pickle ornament tradition during a trip to the U.S. in the 1990s! His glass factory now makes thousands of Christmas pickles each year.
trio of shiny green glass pickles

What’s the Real Pickle Ornament Story?

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By the 1880s, the United States was home to about 1.5 million Germans. Woolworth’s catered to its clientele by offering blown glass Christmas ornaments from Germany. Fruit and vegetables were common early ornament motifs – including pickles. Maybe because a green pickle ornament didn’t stand out in a Christmas tree, they didn’t sell as well as other ornaments.

Did some canny 19th Century Woolworth’s clerk improve the ornament’s popularity by inventing a Christmas pickle legend? He might have reasoned that German immigrants, especially, could view the green glass gherkin more favorably if they thought they were maintaining a tradition from their homeland.nim leo eu turpis.
a green glass pickle ornament hanging from a pine branch with sparkling blue bokeh

The Modern Pickle Christmas Ornament

These days, thousands of Christmas pickle ornaments are sold each year. Some even come with an explanation of the pickle ornament history, or a pickle poem explaining the tradition.

Regardless of the truth of the Christmas pickle story, hiding the pickle in the Christmas tree is a beloved family tradition that continues to grow in popularity.

To start your own family Christmas pickle tradition, browse our selection of pickle ornaments!