The tradition of the Christmas Pickle has to be one of the strangest modern Christmas customs in the world. It is no wonder that no one is quite sure why it exists at all. In fact, there are two traditions that seem to indicate that the custom originated in Germany. However, some think that it originated right here in the good old United states in the late 19th century.
The tradition involves hiding a real pickle, or a glass pickle, somewhere in the Christmas tree. The first child to find the pickle on Christmas day would receive another gift from Santa, and was guaranteed good fortune for the coming year.
One suggested origin has been that the tradition came from Camp Sumter during the American Civil War. A Bavarian born private, John C. Lower, enlisted in the 103rd Pennsylvania Infantry. He was captured in April 1864 and taken to a prison camp in Andersonville, Georgia. As the story is told, on Christmas Eve, he begged a guard for at least a pickle as he was very ill and starving. The guard provided a pickle, which Lower later credited for saving his live. After returning to his family, he began a tradition of hiding a pickle on their Christmas tree each year.
Another origin is linked to St. Nicholas. It is a medieval tale of two Spanish boys traveling home from a boarding school for the Christmas holidays. When they stopped at an inn for the night, the evil innkeeper killed the boys and put them in a pickle barrel. That evening, St. Nicholas stopped at the same inn, found the boys in the barrel and miraculously bought them back to life.
It has been suggested that the origin of the Christmas pickle may have been developed for marketing purposes in the 1890s to coincide with the importation of glass Christmas tree decorations from Germany. Woolworth was the first company to import these types of decorations into the United States in 1890. Glass blown decorative vegetables were imported from France from 1892 onward. It seems that pickles must have been among the selections. So, it is possible that an ornament salesman, with a lot of spare pickles to sell, invented the legend of the Christmas pickle.
Today, Berrien Springs, Michigan calls itself the Christmas Pickle Capital of the World. This town of around two thousand residents celebrates with a Christmas Pickle Festival held in early December each year. The residents claim that the tradition of St. Nicholas reviving the two boys is the correct one, and they center their celebration on that fact. The village is located in the area of Michigan known for cucumber production.
In some families, the Christmas pickle tradition is taken a step further by serving pickles at the holiday meal. They make pickles with red food coloring and cinnamon sticks to add flavor and color.
As for me and my family, we love pickles but don’t plan to put one on the Christmas tree only to forget about it until the next Christmas. This might be a fun thing to try with your children this year. I understand one can purchase pickle ornaments readily now days.
“THE CHRISTMAS PICKLE”
BY: NEAL MURPHY
PO BOX 511
107 HEMLOCK STREET
SAN AUGUSTINE, TX 75972