Uncovering the Origins
In many families, including my own, Christmas Day starts with an exciting tradition – the hunt for a little green pickle-shaped ornament hidden among the branches of the tree. Both kids and adults eagerly search for this unique ornament. The lucky person who finds it gets the honor of opening the first present and boasting about their victory until the following year. It’s a cherished tradition that brings laughter and friendly competition to our festive day. I’ve always wondered about the story behind this peculiar tradition and why it continues to captivate us year after year.
A Touch of German Heritage
The history of the Christmas pickle has vague connections to Germany. In the 1880s, the department store Woolworths began importing blown-glass ornaments from Germany, including ones shaped like fruits and vegetables. Around the same time, a tale emerged suggesting that German families would hang a pickle ornament as the final touch on their Christmas tree. The child who discovered the pickle first would receive an extra present. However, when Americans inquired about this tradition with their German relatives, most were unaware of it. It is widely believed that a clever salesman invented this story to sell more pickle ornaments. Judging by the prevalence of pickle ornaments on today’s Christmas trees, it seems like their marketing ploy was a resounding success.
Unraveling the Legends
As with any age-old tradition, there are different legends surrounding the Christmas pickle. One legend recounts that during the American Civil War, a German soldier who was a prisoner of war pleaded with a guard for a pickle to alleviate his hunger. The guard granted his request, and the pickle provided the soldier with the strength to persevere.
Another tale tells the story of two Spanish boys traveling home for the holidays. They sought shelter at an inn where a wicked innkeeper murdered them and hid their bodies in a pickle barrel. St. Nicholas happened upon the inn, discovered the unfortunate fate of the boys, and miraculously brought them back to life.
The Heart of the Christmas Pickle Resides in Michigan
For those seeking a tangible connection to the origins of the pickle ornament, the search leads us to Berrien Springs, MI. According to Rhiannon Cizon, the Executive Director of the Berrien County Historical Association, the legends surrounding the Christmas pickle pale in comparison to the undeniable influence of Woolworth’s excess of pickle ornaments.
Cizon explains, “Germans and many Eastern European countries have a fondness for fermented or pickled foods, so it’s not surprising that the two concepts have become intertwined in people’s minds.” Berrien Springs, boasting fertile farmland and a thriving German community, once held the title of the Pickle Capital of the World.
The town’s passion for pickled vegetables extended to a vibrant Christmas pickle festival that spanned from 1995 into the 2010s. The festival brought joy to the community with a colorful parade, a pickle pageant, pickle-tossing competitions, and even a pickle-eating contest. It became the ultimate kickoff for the holiday season and likely fueled the demand for pickle-shaped ornaments. Although the festival is no longer held, the people of Berrien Springs still hold a special place in their hearts for the cherished pickle ornament.
Cizon concludes optimistically, saying, “Perhaps one day, the Grand Dillmeister will grace the streets of Berrien Springs again. But until then, we have the radiant glow of our beloved ornament to keep the spirit of Christmas pickles alive.”
Image: A charming pickle-shaped ornament nestled among the festive branches of a Christmas tree.
In the midst of the holiday season, as we gather with our loved ones, the pickle ornament remains a symbol of joy, tradition, and the bonds that connect families throughout generations.