Die Weihnachtsgurke: the Christmas Pickle

The Christmas Pickle Ornament: is it a German custom or a German-American Christmas custom? You decide!

Yesterday I posted about some German Christmas traditions; a college friend of mine, who studied German with me at Lawrence University, reminded me about the Christmas Pickle (die Weihnachtsgurke) ornament. Maybe you’ve heard about the Christmas pickle. In the United States, it’s said that Germans brought the custom of hanging a glass pickle ornament in one’s Christmas tree. The child who finds the pickle in the tree gets an extra gift. Since the pickle ornament is green, it is supposed to be hard to find in the tree.

I had never heard of this German custom until I started teaching German, when some of my students were asking me about it. It sounded interesting to me, so I started to look for a Christmas pickle ornament to hang on my own tree. Sure enough, the ornament I found had a little note inside explaining the tradition.

I’ve since asked Germans I know in Hamburg, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Baden-Württemberg and Bayern about the Christmas pickle ornament. They all look at me like, “what are you talking about?” Nobody seems to have ever heard of it, so I’m wondering if this is actually a German-American custom. This web page seems to think that the Christmas pickle ornament in a myth.

On the other hand, here is an amusing blog post in German about a German who first encounters the Christmas pickle ornament in Munich. He even writes that his parents denied him of this apparent custom (oh no!). The post is in German and well-worth reading if you can read German. The blogger is equally skeptisch of this custom, though he wryly suggests that maybe, just maybe, it comes from the Spreewald, in the Herz region which is supposed to be known for its pickle industry.

Whether or not this is really a German or German-American custom, the pickle ornament is an unusual decoration for your tree and it has a good story to go with it. In the United States, you can buy a very nice Christmas pickle ornament at Crate and Barrel if you think you’d like one for your tree. It seems that the custom is catching on here in Germany, too. In Germany, you can buy a pickle ornament from Gartenschätze, which mentions this as a very regional German custom though it doesn’t say from where, or from Weihnachtsgurken. On this second website, there’s a cute drawing that German students might especially like (“Gurk, gurk”).

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9 responses to “Die Weihnachtsgurke: the Christmas Pickle

  1. I was just explaining this concept to my boyfriend when we were at the Christkindlmarket in Chicago (http://www.christkindlmarket.com/en/)

    There’s an ornament shop/vendor with many, many gorgeous ornaments and there’s a small section with a nice variety of pickle ornaments. When we reached that section, my boyfriend said the vendor must be a huge pickle fan, so I went into teacher mode and now he knows all about pickle ornament history 🙂

    • bowmansinbavaria

      Hi Maryam! So lovely of you to comment, I’ve been thinking of you. We’ve been to the Chicago Christkindlmarkt a few times and it’s such a great one. It almost makes me feel like I’m back in Germany, and as I recall, a number of the vendors are actually from Germany.

      It’s great you knew the “story” behind the pickle ornament and were able to tell your boyfriend all about it. I actually think that once I’m back in the classroom, teaching German, this might be a fun little project and debate to assign to students, don’t you think?

  2. Oh my goodness! that’s what those pickle ornaments are all about?! Ive seen so many glass pickles and I thought they were just for people like me who really love pickles! heeeheee

    • bowmansinbavaria

      Serena, that’s great!! As you have now learned, it’s either an extremely obscure German custom, or an American one attributed to Germany.

      I have to admit, I rather like my sparkly pickle ornament. *heehee*

  3. Matthew Spencer

    Great post. After reading a bit about it, I’m skeptisch of the Weinachtsgurke myself. I think its funny too that the German blogger supposes they could come from Spreewald. I do miss those pickles.

    • bowmansinbavaria

      I thought that was funny, too, Matt. Had you ever encountered the German pickle ornament before? I think it was around 2005 or so when I first heard about it from my students.

      I’m curious to know if historically the pickle ornament is more prevalent in certain parts of the United States, and if it was something among the German community or not.

  4. We’ve had a pickle ornament for years. The tradition was passed along to us by a friend, but we don’t give an extra gift for finding the pickle. The friends who passed it along to us were from New England, if that’s any help on where in the United States it’s honored.

  5. Hey Hey!

    I’m German (from the Köln area), and had never heard of this tradition until my 12 year old American cousin asked me about it this Christmas, saying “How do YOU not know?! It’s a GERMAN tradition!” She learned it in her German class apparently. My father and I were both baffled.

    I have the feeling it may be more of a German-American tradition. Just my two cents!

  6. Hi
    I’m German as well, living in Hamburg. Yesterday evening, during a children TV show, I heard the first time in my (38 years) life of this Christmas Pickle. I also have never seen an ornament like this being offered for sale. Now, searching the internet, it’s amazing to see this being shared with the world as German “tradition”!? What is commonly known as traditions are the christmas wreath with 4 candles, the Advent Calender with 24 doors filled with sweets to be opened by the children, the Nikolaus Boot (the children leave one of their shoes / boots in front of the door in the night to the 6th December, the next morning the Nikolaus has filled it with sweets and gifts), and so on…But coming back to the pickle: we Germans surely love to eat them, so why not hang them on the tree…:)

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