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Pickley Christmas

The informant is a sophomore at USC from Long Beach, CA.

I was discussing folk traditions with the informant after class one day and she offered me a particularly odd Christmas tradition that she has in her own family

“Every Christmas day my mom hides a pickle ornament, a green pickle ornament. It used to be that it was supposed to be hidden over in the tree, and then whoever finds it gets the prize. But now, it’s hidden anywhere because of course it got too easy, but my whole family does that, and I’ve done that since I was little and I don’t know where it comes from.”

Here she describes a tradition surrounding a pickle ornament that seems intuitively quite odd. After some research I found a variety of explanations. Many believe the tradition to have originated from Germany, and to be referred to as Weihnachtsgurke. The truth is that this is an invented myth!

In reality this may well be a great example of fakelore – of a clever effort to unload and boost sales of a particularly eccentric ornament. In my discussion with her, she seemed to believe that this tradition was isolated and invented, yet it turns out to be quite a widespread tradition in America, and it even seems to have spread to its purported origin of Germany after the fact. The person who finds the Christmas pickle is believed to receive good fortune all year or an extra present. Berrien Spring, Michigan, a cucumber production center, was known as the Christmas Pickle capital of the world from 1992 to 2003. What an odd designation and interesting little tradition. The oddity of the ornament certainly adds to the tradition’s mystique, and thus its continue prominence.

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