Author: Ruth Tipton, Trainee Archaeologist
Just imagine it. You’ve picked out a beautiful tree, the smell of pine slowly filling the room. In the kitchen, a loved one is creating a delicious smorgasbord of mince pies and mulled wine. You gather the children to help decorate the tree. Grasping hands reach into The Box. Lights. Tinsel. Baubles. The tree becomes so densely populated, you wonder how it doesn’t collapse under the weight. It’s nearly complete, except for… “Please”. The youngest looks up at you, his eyes gleaming with the light of the tree “can I put the pickle on the tree?”
We’ve all been there. No? Well, I guess we’ll have to put it down to yet another wonderfully unusual festive tradition, one of many to be found around this time of year. One of my personal favourite aspects of this time of year is to hear about the traditions others hold dear to them. So grab a hot drink and settle down because, over the course of this festive season, we here at Past to Present want to shed some light on some of these brilliant traditions. And what better place to start than:
This unusual tradition, which is still popular in parts of America (particularly around the Midwest), has been passed down for generations. The pickle, which is usually a pickle shaped glass bauble, is the last ornament to be hung on the tree. On Christmas morning, the first child to find the ornament either gets a special treat or gets to open the first present. The person who finds it is also meant to have good luck for the coming year.
But where did such an unusual tradition originate? The truth of the matter is unknown with various different accounts and possibilities. Many believe that the tradition, also known as Weihnachtsgurke, originated in Germany and was brought over by German migrants. However, a 2016 YouGov survey indicated that 91% of Germans had never even heard of the tradition (and only 2% appear to actively celebrate this custom), so this scenario seems unlikely.
More likely is that the tradition started with the F.W. Woolworth Company in the 1800s. At the time, German glass-blowers were creating ornaments in the shape of fruit, nuts, and possibly pickles. It’s thought that these pickle ornaments weren’t selling well so the company came up with the ‘tradition’ in order to sell more. If this is the case, their plan worked as the custom is still popular today. So why not give it a go yourselves?
Pickle Ornaments by Steven Miller
The Christmas Pickle by ☼☼Happy Winter Solstice☼☼
Title Photo – Photo by Richard Steih on Flickr via Foodtribe