The informant is Norwegian-American and lives in Long Island, NY. He describes his family’s tradition of hiding a pickle in the christmas tree. He says that when he was young, his parents would bury a pickle ornament deep in the tree and he and his siblings would race to find it. Whomever found it first got to open presents first.
I asked the informant about the history of this custom. He explained that his family has other German relatives and that they adopted this custom from them. When his father and his grandparents were young, they hid actual pickles, but the custom has evolved so that most people just hide pickle ornaments now. I then asked the informant about the significance of the custom, and he shared the story he’d been told: “I heard that for generations, German parents would reward the most observant child with an extra present. So, they found the most observant child by hiding a pickle among the other ornaments.”
What’s interesting to me about this custom is that, upon further research, it doesn’t seem to exist in actual Germany. Instead, it appears to be a custom exclusive to German-Americans (read: https://www.german-way.com/history-and-culture/holidays-and-celebrations/christmas/the-christmas-pickle-ornament/). This reminds me of the Italian-American tradition of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, which similarly seems to exist mostly in America.