For some Americans, pickles have a place of honor not in a jar, on a sandwich or on a plate, but on the Christmas tree.
Often made of blown glass, the ornament is hidden in the boughs of the tree.
“Traditionally, the tree was put up on Christmas Eve after the children went to bed,” said Jamie Withrow, owner of Jamie’s Secret Garden in St. Joseph. “The pickle was put on the tree, and whoever found the pickle got an extra present.”
The origins of the Christmas pickle custom, however, are almost as elusive as finding the ornament. Withrow, who has done a lot of research on Christmas customs over the years, said that the pickle practice began in Germany and spread to the rest of the world by way of the crown.
Prince Albert, who was born in Germany, celebrated the tradition growing up, and when he married Queen Victoria, they continued the custom with their family.
“She did it and that’s what made it cool,” Withrow said.
According to whychristmas.com, in the 1880s Woolworth stores started selling glass ornaments imported from Germany and some were in the shape of various fruits and vegetables.
Interestingly enough, this was in the middle of Queen Victoria’s reign. A Taste of Home article, however, postulates that the “tradition” was actually concocted to help sell excess pickle ornaments.
Today’s Germans don’t appear to be familiar with the tradition. Several articles cite a 2016 YouGov poll that surveyed more than 2,000 Germans on whether they were familiar with the Christmas pickle tradition — 91 percent said no.
Faith Jakobsen, an American expatriate who lives in Breklum, Germany, asked 15 of her German friends living in Nordfriesland in northern Germany to Bavaria in southern Germany about the custom.
“That is not a German custom,” she said. “No one has heard of it.”
She, like many Germans and Americans alike, celebrates Advent, lighting a candle on an Advent wreath on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Some families also light a fifth candle on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.
Another tradition celebrated by many Germans during the holiday season is the feast day of St. Nicholas, Dec. 6.
“The children leave their shoes by the door,” Jakobsen explained. “The next morning they are filled with sweets.”