Last year, I was the pickle champion. It was Christmas Eve, and my siblings and I were rooting through my family’s Christmas tree. We were elbow-deep in scratchy artificial fir branches, in hot pursuit of one thing: The Christmas Pickle. A few moments later, I found the pickle and hoisted it aloft. ’Twas I who found the pickle; thus, ’twas I who scored an extra Christmas present. (A $5 car wash voucher. Huzzah, indeed!)
What, you may ask, is The Christmas Pickle? Well, if you know, you know. Pickle procedure goes thusly:
1. Hide a pickle-shaped ornament in your Christmas tree.
2. Send your family hunting for the pickle, either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
3. Whomsoever finds the pickle gets an extra Christmas present.
There are a few variations on the tradition; in some families, the pickle finder gets to open the first gift. In others, the pickle finder gets to open a gift on Christmas Eve instead of waiting until Christmas Day. Regardless, the pickle is a holly jolly tradition unlike any other. But who hid the first Christmas Pickle?
Cosmopolitan writes that the quirky tradition is also known as Weihnachtsgurke and supposedly has its roots in Germany. However, according to a poll cited in a New York Times report, 91% of Germans were entirely unaware of the custom. Turns out, the pickle ornament tradition is most popular in the Midwest; specifically, Berrien Springs, Michigan, a German settlement and the home of an annual Christmas Pickle Festival. The tradition’s Midwestern ties explain my family’s annual pickle pageantry. (Interestingly, although most of Takeout staff are Midwest-born, only two of us—myself and associate editor Brianna Wellen—have experience with the tradition.)
Meanwhile, TODAY Food cites Old World Christmas, a shop that sells traditional, mouth-blown glass ornaments, as a popular pickle purveyor. A spokesperson for the company told TODAY that the pickle ornament has been the company’s best-selling ornament for over 37 years. Turns out that Old World Christmas founder Tim Merck originally got his start importing ornaments from Lausch, Germany, to the U.S.
So, is the Christmas pickle an old-world German custom? Is it the result of midcentury Midwestern kitsch? Maybe a little bit of both? The tradition’s origins are still a little fuzzy. Regardless, the pickle is a fun and funky way to gather round the Christmas tree this holiday season.
Just don’t use a real pickle—the smell of that juice lingers.