The Surprising Story of the Christmas Pickle, Your Family's Favorite Ornament

·3 min read


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Every family has a different approach to tree decorating, including the Drummonds. "The Christmas tree is one of those traditions for me, and to say I hold it dear is a bit of an understatement," Ree Drummond says. "'Sacrosanct' would be more accurate." Speaking of traditions, does your family pull a shiny pickle from the box of Christmas ornaments each year?

Well, it's not a funny food gag or a leftover piece of vintage Christmas décor—it's the Christmas pickle! This classic Christmas ornament is part of a tradition in many households around the country. For American kids, the pickle is a pretty big dill (prepare for more pickle puns).

What's the tradition of the Christmas pickle?

Sometime between putting up the tree and December 25, a pickle ornament is hidden amongst the boughs. The hunt begins on Christmas morning, and whoever finds the pickle is awarded with opening the first gift or an extra gift, as well as good luck for the year! It's a delightful, silly moment that children always relish. Plus, the tradition makes kids slow down and keeps them from tearing through their presents.

Photo credit: Markus Gann - Getty Images
Photo credit: Markus Gann - Getty Images

What is the history of the Christmas pickle?

Unsurprisingly, the history of the Christmas pickle is a bit unknown. The general thought is that the tradition known as Weihnachtsgurke originated from Germany. However, the market research firm YouGov called this into question in 2016 when they surveyed German nationals. The survey results: Only 8% knew about the Christmas pickle tradition and only 2% actually practiced it!

Another possibility is that it was a small tradition that an ornament company popularized. Beloved company Old World Christmas crafts traditional, mouth-blown ornaments and includes the pickle origin story in every box. Here's where it gets complicated: Tim Merck, the company's founder, got his start in the 1980s importing ornaments from the town of Lausch, Germany. It was Merck who wrote the company's pickle story, but no one knows if it was something he heard in Germany or a story of his own invention!

Merck isn't the only ornament-producing suspect, though. According to USA Today, Woolworths began importing and selling German glass ornaments of all shapes in the late 1800s. It's thought that when the pickle ornaments were selling poorly, a crafty salesman dreamed up a European Christmas tradition story to help them do better. If this was the case, it certainly worked!

There's also a distinctly American origin tale that dates back to the Civil War. A captured Union Army soldier was given a pickle on Christmas Eve, and it helped keep him alive. When he returned home, he began hanging a pickle on the tree each Christmas.

Yet another story claims it is an old St. Nicholas myth (this one is pretty jarring). In this grim telling, an old innkeeper trapped two boys in a barrel of pickles on Christmas Eve. St. Nick came by and freed them just in time, and they were able to make it home on time to celebrate.

With little consensus, you can think of the Christmas pickle origin story as a pickle-your-own adventure. If you're really creative, come up with your own story to tell the kids—whatever pickles your fancy. 😌