History

The Myth of The German Christmas Pickle

Does your family have a pickle-shaped ornament for the Christmas tree? It’s not uncommon; in fact, there’s even a Christmas Pickle capital of the world (Berrien Springs, MI) that holds a pickle festival every year. Known as a Weihnachtsgurke or “Christmas Pickle,” these decorations do not actually come from Germany. Despite various legends surrounding the odd ornament, the tradition most likely started as a marketing ploy by Woolworth’s, America’s first major retail store. 

Americans have not always decorated their trees with the familiar colored, glass globes. Before the 1880’s, everyone used simple popcorn strings and garlands. Frank W. Woolworth made quite a bit of money selling the first glass ornaments and making his store beautiful at Christmas time. He filled window displays with cheap items that flew off the shelves. Frank stepped up his holiday game after visiting Europe and discovering beautiful glass-and-quicksilver ornaments in a wide variety of shapes, including fruit, vegetables, pine cones, birds, and more. When he returned home, the store began importing glass Christmas ornaments from Europe, specifically France and Germany.

The pickle was most likely included in these shipments, and they came with a story. Supposedly, the pickle always went on the tree last and whatever child found it would get an extra present. Americans accepted this tradition, but it eventually came out that Germans had no idea about it. It appears that Woolworth’s figured out a way to sell those pickle ornaments, which maybe weren’t too popular at first.

A pickle ornament from Crate + Barrel. The item description claims it is an “age-old German good luck emblem.”

There’s another story associated with the pickle ornament and it’s set in America. According to the myth, a Civil War soldier was captured and taken to a prison camp. On Christmas Eve, starving, he begged his guard to give him a pickle. Taking pity, the guard obliged, and the soldier lived through his ordeal. When he returned home, he started a tradition and hide a pickle in the Christmas tree every year.

Featured image credit