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”).