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  • Writer's pictureMichael Dakoske

The Mystery of the Christmas Pickle Tradition


Photo courtesy of Robin Zebrowski on flickr

The Christmas Season brings quality time with your family, good food, and, most importantly, weird traditions. One of these weird traditions is the pickle ornament. On Christmas Eve, parents hide a pickle ornament deep within the green pine needles of their Christmas tree. It’s the kids’ job the next morning, on Christmas day, to find the ornament. The first kid to find it gets awarded somehow, typically in the form of an extra present.


There are many more theories behind this tradition. One popular story behind the pickle is that two boys were lost and booked a room at a local inn. The innkeeper trapped the boys in a barrel of pickles until St. Nicholas (Santa) saved them from the barrel and the innkeeper on Christmas.


According to usatoday.com, there is a rumored story that an American soldier during the Civil War got captured and was held captive in a prison camp. By Christmas Eve, the soldier was starving and begged a guard for a pickle. The pickle kept the soldier sustained enough to live until he was released. When he got home, he started putting a pickle on his family’s Christmas tree to honor what saved his life and to bring good luck to himself and his family. This story is much more realistic than Santa Clause saving two boys from an evil innkeeper, but it is still not credible and only adds to the mystery.


For a while, it was thought that the pickle ornament was just an old German tradition that made its way to America. This theory is not well-supported, though, because a 2016 survey conducted by YouGov found that 8% of German nationals knew about the tradition, but only 2% practiced it.


According to usatoday.com, Germany has a rich history of making and exporting glass ornaments. In the 1880s, a store called Woolworths started selling imported German ornaments, one of these being a glass pickle. When they started selling the pickles, they spread that it was an old German tradition to hang pickle ornaments on the tree and have kids find it for a reward. Many people challenged this story due to the abundance of Germans who didn’t even know the tradition. This doubt led many to believe that the story was just a marketing ploy to make the pickles seem more desirable.


According to themichiganoutfitter.com, Berrien Springs, Michigan is the “Christmas Pickle Capital of the World.” That specific region of Michigan is pickle-producing, so the general population claims they have always had pickles on their trees. The small Michigan town had a festival in honor of the Christmas pickle ornament every year in early December called “Kindle Your Christmas Spirit.” At this festival, there was a parade led by the nominated Grand Dillmaster, who passed out pickles to everyone on the parade route. The festival faded out of existence in the 2000’s but was brought back in 2021. It now happens on the 4th of July and includes a pageant and a 5K race.


If you’re looking for something interesting to spice up your holidays, the pickle ornament is a great tradition to spend with your family, despite its unknown history. With the holidays coming up, it’s the perfect time to grab one!


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