I grew up with the Christmas Pickle tradition, secure in the knowledge that this was part of my heritage – although I have no memory of my parents celebrating the tradition. It’s origin was told to me as a German-American tradition and I’ve thought of it as part of my heritage since I was a child. But it appears my childhood knowledge was a bit skewed.
For those of you unfamiliar with the tradition, it goes something like this (with variations). Late on Christmas Eve, parents hide a pickle ornament deep within the branches of the Christmas tree. On Christmas morning, the first child to find the pickle ornament on the tree receives an extra present from St. Nicholas. The first adult who finds the ornament is said to have good luck for the next year.
Imagine my dismay when I learned this is not truly a German tradition. It’s German origin has been disputed for many reasons. One being that St. Nicholas doesn’t arrive until December 5 or 6 in Germany. So he can’t provide that extra gift for the pickle-finder. Apparently Germany is not very familiar with the pickle tradition either.
What is the origin of this childhood memory that has just been tarnished when the truth was uncovered? (Yes, I admit it. I just now discovered that what I thought was common practice in German households is a myth.)
One version is traced to a Bavarian born immigrant who enlisted in the 103rd Pennsylvania Infantry. He was captured in North Carolina in 1864 and taken to Camp Sumter in Georgia. This story tells us that he was near death from starvation on Christmas Eve and a guard gave him a pickle out of compassion. He credited the pickle with saving his life and once he was reunited with his family he began the tradition of hiding a pickle on the Christmas tree. (Ah, the power of the pickle!)
And Berrien Springs, Michigan is known as the Pickle Capital of the World. Not the United States, but the world. Twice a year the city holds a Picklefest, complete with a parade led by the Grand Dillmeister. There are recipe and decorating contests, three legged races, and free pickles for all! (Did I mention this is held twice a year? It does bear repeating.)
And I thought this was just a quaint custom that was a German-American secret.
But wait. It gets better. Take two minutes to view The Carol of the Christmas Pickle by Firehouse Dallas. For the Christmas Pickle fan, it’s well worth the time.
This year I have an expanded perspective on this unique bit of Christmas. It’s a bit disenchanting. I think I can adapt. But please don’t tell my mother. Let her keep the legends she grew up with.