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Solved! What is the Meaning Behind the Christmas Pickle Ornament?

We get to the bottom of the dill-icious Christmas pickle tradition of hanging a cuke on the tree. 
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Christmas pickle tradition

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There are countless cultural practices associated with Christmas, but some are a little quirkier than others. Some families in the United States hide a pickle ornament in their Christmas tree and give a prize to the child—or adult—who finds it. So how did this tradition begin? And how did a pickle become one of the most classic Christmas ornaments? It turns out there are a few competing theories about its origin.

Three Origin Stories

While some holiday traditions have established origins, the history of this one is a bit murky. The most common belief has historically been that the practice originated in Germany, but that theory has been called into question. We may never know who really started the tradition of hiding a pickle in the Christmas tree, but there are three potential origin stories to explore.

A German Tradition?

In the United States, it has generally been believed that this tradition began in Germany, where the pickle was referred to as Weihnachtsgurke. Native Germans, however, largely have no knowledge of the tradition that they supposedly started. What does seem likely, however, is that five-and-dime store Woolworths spread the tale when it began selling pickle ornaments in the 1890s that were made in Germany.

christmas pickle tradition

A Civil War Soldier?

Another popular story involves Bavarian-born Civil War soldier Private John C. Lower. He was a prisoner of war at Camp Sumter and on Christmas Eve allegedly asked his captors for a pickle to eat so he wouldn’t starve. They complied with his request, and he considered that pickle to have saved his life. The story goes that he began the tradition in his own family’s Christmas tree which was supposed to bring good luck.

A Victorian Fairy Tale?

The last story is a Victorian fairy tale about two children who were trapped in a pickle barrel by an evil innkeeper. The children were saved by St. Nicholas in a Christmas miracle. This one is commonly told in Berrien Springs, Michigan, which is the self-appointed Christmas pickle capital of the world and has even held parades in honor of the tradition.

christmas pickle tradition

Start Your Own Tradition

Want to bring this quirky tradition into your home this holiday season? Hide a pickle in the branches of your artificial Christmas tree or fresh pine on Christmas Eve and let your family try to find it the next morning. Prepare an inexpensive or silly gift to reward the winner. Here are some of our favorite pickle ornaments: