History of German Pickle at Christmas

German pickle Christmas tree

Is there a pickle on your Christmas tree? If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you’ve probably never heard of the German pickle ornament tradition. Let me fill you in.

German Pickle ornament tree

German Pickle ornament tree at Epcot

German legend has it that pickles bring good luck. Germans hide a pickle ornament somewhere on their Christmas trees.

On Christmas morning, the first child to locate the pickle ornament (die Weihnachtsgurke) gets a small reward, left by Saint Nicholas.

Is the German Pickle a Myth?

Before you tuck this charming tradition into your mind, wait just a minute. It may not be true. In fact, apparently many Germans were asked about it, and none had ever heard of the tradition. The deniers point out problems with the myth; one being that in Germany, St. Nicholas visits on December 5 or 6, not Christmas Eve.They also mention that German kids open Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve, not on Christmas morning.

My research also suggested that the tradition had been perpetuated online (as many myths are). I’m not buying the idea that it originated there, though, because I heard about the legend prior to my online days.

German pickle ornament

Here is my pickle ornament on my Christmas tree. I remember getting it; it would have been in the early 1990s. The local newspaper used to offer a daily coupon for something free, somewhere in town. Once, a local garden/home decor shop that I loved (and which has, sadly, closed) offered a free German pickle ornament, and I drove out to get mine. I think my first time discovering the wonderful world of the internet was at a teacher workshop several years later, in 1995 or 1996.

So, if the German pickle ornament tradition is a myth, it happened before the days of the internet. I have 2 German friends who I write to each year at Christmas. I just mailed their cards yesterday, and now I’m wishing I’d asked them about pickle ornaments.

The top two photos in the post show impressive entire trees full of pickle ornaments — at Epcot’s German Pavilion in Disney World. Maybe someone should inform Disney that the whole pickle thing is a myth??

How about you? Any Germans out there who can answer the burning question: is the legend of the German pickle ornament a fraud?

**Update: a friend who grew up in Germany has never heard of it. He researched it on German Google and it says that the tradition is strictly American. In 1909 there was a sales catalog from a bicycle plant that offered a pickle ornament for sale. So maybe it was around somewhere at some point, but definitely nothing cultural or country-wide.

 

5 thoughts on “History of German Pickle at Christmas

  1. You’ll have to ask our cousin, Barbara Bretz, if she knows about it. She’s married to a German man, and she lived in Germany for many years.

  2. I have never heard of this, either. I wonder how they connect pickles to luck? Not being a pickle lover and not believing in luck, I would probably not have one except maybe just in a nod to German ancestry. It would be interesting to know how this came about.

  3. I’ve been told it is a myth. I am sure it is a tradition Hallmark is praying will never go away. Pickles are green and so is paper money! I heard this tale of the Christmas pickle decades back.

  4. I’ve heard of it, long before the Internet. I am of German descent, but that’s not how I heard of it. But there’s a funny, bittersweet story related to the pickle ornament… my sister always adored, loved, craved large dill pickles. Our Aunt used to offer us a choice of treats, and while I always went for the candy bar, my sister always chose a dill pickle. As a teen, she worked in a Swiss Colony store in the mall, and she loved the pickles there (and the marzipan!). Anyway, fast forward to the end of what had been an extremely hard year for her, and she was feeling bruised and lonely. That’s when I saw the pickle ornament, along with the legend, in a Christmas catalog… and knew she had to have it. I sent it to her, told her it was special, and to open it before Christmas (so she could put it on her tree). I guess she built up some expectations, but anyway, she made some hot tea, put on some Christmas music, made sort of a ritual out of opening this special gift. And opened a pickle ornament. At first a bit stunned, she soon began laughing, and told me it helped her not to take herself so seriously. A gracious response at least, but I felt a little bad that I’d evidently built it up a bit too much, lol!

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