The Christmas pickle is a Christmas tradition for some Americans. A decoration in the shape of a pickle is hidden on a Christmas tree, with the finder receiving either a reward or good fortune for the following year. There are a number of different origin stories attributed to the tradition, including an origination in Germany. This theory has since been discounted, and it is now thought to be an American tradition created in the late 19th century.
In the tradition, an ornamental pickle is placed on a Christmas tree as one of the Christmas decorations. On Christmas morning, the first person to find the pickle on the tree would receive an extra present from Santa Claus or would be said to have a year of good fortune.
This tradition is commonly believed by Americans to come from Germany and be referred to as a Weihnachtsgurke, but this is probably apocryphal. In fact, the tradition is completely unknown in Germany. 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. Woolworths was the first company to import these types of decorations into the United States in 1890, and glass blown decorative vegetables were imported from France from 1892 onwards. Despite the evidence showing that the tradition did not originate in Germany, the concept of Christmas pickles has since been imported from the United States and they are now on sale in the country traditionally associated with it.
One suggested origin has been that the tradition came from Camp Sumter during the American Civil War. The Bavarian-born Private John C. Lower had enlisted in the 103rd Pennsylvania Infantry, but was captured in April 1864 and taken to the prison camp. As the story is told, on Christmas Eve he begged a guard for a pickle while starving. The guard provided the pickle, which Lower later credited for saving his life. After returning to his family, he began a tradition of hiding a pickle on their Christmas tree each year.
Another origin which comes from Berrien Springs is a Victorian era tale of St. Nicholas saving two Spanish children who were trapped in a barrel of pickles by an innkeeper, which actually derives from a much more gruesome medieval legend involving a cannibalistic butcher butchering and storing a group of boys in a barrel and St. Nicholas miraculously restoring and resurrecting them.
- "Why do some people hang ornaments that look like pickles on their Christmas trees?". Tampa Bay Magazine: 91. November–December 2011. Retrieved 24 November 2012.
- Rodeghier, Karen (21 December 1999). "Let's Go". Daily Herald. Retrieved 24 November 2012. (subscription required)
- Gregory, Leland (2010). Stupid Christmas. Kansas City, Mo.: Andrews McMeel. p. 88. ISBN 9780740799532.
- Russell, Nancy (14 December 2006). "German Gherkin Ornament Puts Historians in a Pickle". Columbia Daily Tribune. Retrieved 24 November 2012. (subscription required)
- Labunski, Carla (12 December 1998). "Naperville Settlement Showcases Yule of Yore". Daily Herald. Retrieved 24 November 2012. (subscription required)
- Rutter, David (25 December 2005). "The true story has some folks up a tree, in a real pickle". Post-Tribune. Archived from the original on 10 June 2014. Retrieved 24 November 2012. (subscription required)
- Browne, Ray B; Browne, Pat (2001). The Guide to United States Popular Culture. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press. p. 170. ISBN 9780879728229.
- "The Strange History of Traditions around the World". South Wales Echo. 19 November 1999. Retrieved 24 November 2012. (subscription required)