LC: “So every year that we would celebrate Christmas at my grandmother’s we would have all the grandkids gather around the Christmas tree and try to find the pickle on the tree and I think it was for Jesus or good luck or something. And one year I found the pickle and that was cool! But we haven’t been to my grandparents’ house in so long now, so it’s just a fond memory.”
Is this just a tradition in your family, or was it a regional thing, do you know?
LC: “I feel like other people do it as well, but I haven’t really met anyone else who does it. I feel like it’s a Southern thing maybe?”
LC: “Really it was just a game for kids to play in the family. You know the thing with the wishbone where you pull it apart and whoever gets the big piece wins? It’s sort of like that except only one person wins out of the like 9 grandkids or so.”
LC picked up this tradition from her family, who live and have lived in both Florida and Texas. It is not particularly significant to her, and serves more as a fun game than a serious tradition. She remembers it fondly; it has no positive or negative ideological significance, only nostalgia.
LC mentioned this custom during a discussion of family holiday traditions after we had Easter dinner with friends. The tradition takes place only during Christmas, and is associated with other physical aspects of the holiday; it piggybacks on the larger, more general tradition of decorating the Christmas tree.
I tend to agree with LC that this tradition, wherever it might be practiced, is almost certainly a lighthearted game played for fun among families. She mentions that it might be for Jesus or good luck, but her uncertainty and lack of concern about such significance suggest it has no particular ideological or religious role. As for the extent of the tradition, LC is right in that other families also have Christmas Pickle ornament traditions. However, its history is fairly uncertain. A brief search suggests that it could be a German tradition, or could be a fabricated tradition by 19th-century glassblowers to sell ornaments. Either way, it seems to be a moderately common Christmas tradition, similar in some ways to Elf on the Shelf. Both are unconnected with the more religious aspects of Christmas, and both involve adults hiding an object from children. Furthermore, both might be created to encourage product sales.
For another description of the Christmas Pickle tradition given by a seminary employee, see here