The Untold Story of the Christmas Pickle Ornament

Do you know the history of the Christmas pickle? If not, don't worry—it seems as if nobody really does.

Photo: Mike Krautter

It's kind of a big dill at my house. Every Christmas, our halls and tree are decked out from top to bottom. In the midst of all the glittery, sparkly, shiny ornaments and garland, there hangs a single glass pickle ($9.34, It's the most sought after piece of decoration in the house... and for good reason. See, on Christmas Eve, after the children have fallen asleep, my parents sneak downstairs and hide the pickle in the boughs of the tree. Because of its green color, it blends into the evergreen and is hard to spot. The first child to find the ornament on Christmas morning is granted the privilege of unwrapping a special gift from under the tree.

The story behind the gherkin-themed game? For years, people believed that the Christmas pickle tradition was passed down through the generations from Old World Germany. Other people believe the pickle is in honor of an American Civil War soldier who was saved from starvation on Christmas Eve by eating a pickle. Still others believe that the tradition has something to do with St. Nicholas saving two boys who were trapped in a barrel of pickles.

Which of these explanations is correct? Apparently, none of them. Historical evidence supports the theory that the tradition was most likely fabricated by salesmen during the late 1800s to promote German glass ornaments in American stores.

Whichever story you believe to be true, there's no doubt about the fact that the pickle ornament has become a mainstay in many homes across the country, including my own. Even though I've never been the first to spot that pickle myself (I'm a late sleeper), it just wouldn't be Christmas without it hiding in our tree.

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