My Christmas tree is a hodgepodge of ornaments, some elegant, some silly, some new, and some very old. But the tree is never complete without the most famous ornament of all: the Christmas Pickle. When most people think of Christmas, they don’t exactly think of pickles; but aren’t the best traditions usually a little off-center?
The Christmas Pickle tradition is based on two different legends. In one, the pickle dates back to a family custom in old-world Germany. In another, a native-Bavarian soldier in the American Civil War was saved from starvation by a pickle and branded it a symbol of good luck. Whatever the lore, the tradition goes like this: on Christmas Eve, the pickle ornament is hidden on the tree. In the morning, the lucky child who finds it gets an extra gift from St. Nicholas.
Neither of these legends have any real traction in the history books, but it is true that Germany is known for its blown-glass ornaments (which include fruits and vegetables and yes, even pickles). And, it’s true that the pickle tradition is gaining in popularity and becoming a modern-day legend all its own. And it’s also true that everyone – children and adults alike – love to look for the pickle, and when they find it, they expect a reward! Or, at least they do in my family.
Our family’s pickle tradition came through a dear friend, who gave them as gifts one year. And I’ll tell you, if you want to see some odd looks on people’s faces, try giving them a glass pickle in a box! “Gee, thanks . . .” But once we heard the legends, we adopted the tradition in fine style, and the pickles have a place of well-hidden honor on our trees each year.
We don’t save the game for Christmas morning – instead, the pickle gets hidden right away, and visitors are invited to find it and claim their prize. I don’t know what it is about pickles, but the game captures everyone’s imagination. Competition is sometimes fierce among adults (especially if the prize is one of my mother’s sweet-potato pies), and children love to find it over and over again.
Sometimes the silliest traditions are the best ones, and the pickle is a “dilly” of a game, guaranteed to get the whole family gathered around the tree laughing within minutes. Just make sure your prize basket is well-stocked!