When I was a child carrying the boxes of ornaments up from the basement (which ranged from vintage paper boxes to red and green Tupperware cases) always induced a flurry of excited conversation over decorating strategies – where should we place the tree, which tree skirt should we use, how best to wrap the lights around the tree (top down vs. bottom up), where to set up my mother’s antique miniature winter village complete with faux skating rink, and what music to set the decorating mood.
Today, one of my favorite Christmas activities is going through our collection of ornaments. Each one, accumulated over the years from family and friends recalls a specific moment in time. Personalities, tastes, dates, and funny stories; each ornament is a vessel where these memories are stored.
Growing up, my nickname was pickle, so naturally, the blown-glass pickle ornament was one of my favorites. With the launch of Kirby & Kraut this year, hanging the pickle ornament on our tree took on special meaning for me, and made me wonder about the history of this odd ornament.
Evidentially there is great speculation around the origins of the Christmas pickle ornament and the only fact that is unanimously agreed upon is that the information about its past is inconclusive. Below are the most commonly repeated myths.
One story claims that the tradition of the Christmas pickle began in Medieval Spain. According to this version of the Christmas pickle legend, two boys were traveling home for Christmas. When they stopped for the night at an inn the innkeeper imprisoned them in a pickle barrel. That night, St. Nicholas stopped at the same inn and realized the boys plight. Tapping the pickle barrel with his staff he magically freed the trapped boys.
The next story begins with a man named John Lower, born in Bavaria in 1842. He left Germany with his family and immigrated to the United States. While fighting in the American Civil War, John Lower was captured and sent to a prison in Andersonville, Georgia. Ill due to poor living conditions in the prison, he begged a guard for just one pickle before resigning to his death. The guard, taking pity on him, found and gave John Lower a pickle. Lower family lore yields John’s testimony that the pickle, by the grace of God, gave him the mental and physical strength to live on. After being reunited with his family he began the tradition of hiding a pickle on the Christmas tree. Hence, the first person who found the pickle on Christmas morning would be blessed with a year of good fortune… and a special gift, just as John Lower had experienced.
The last and most commonly told story about the pickle theoretically began in Germany (although all the research is quick to point out that no average German has a clue about this). Evidentially on Christmas Eve the pickle ornament was the last thing hung on a Christmas tree. The dark green ornament blends in with the tree making it difficult to spot and the first child to find the Christmas pickle gets an extra present. If no extra presents are available, the finder of the Christmas pickle gets to be the first one to open a present.
May the mysterious origins of the pickle ornament add additional joy and merriment to your holiday season and provide you with a story or two to tell when you pull your pickle ornament out of storage.