Tag Archives: christmas decoration

Christmas Ornament Ritual

K: “Okay, so during, um, Christmas time, whenever my family puts all the ornaments up on our Christmas tree, or like, we decorate the Christmas tree, we have two ornaments that we always put on in a specific order. So we have the pickle ornament, which goes on second to last, and then we have this little clip-on, like, cardinal ornament, and we always put that on our Christmas tree last.”

Me: “Is this something that your parents explicitly taught you, or did you kind of come up with it as a family, like it formed organically?”

Kae: “I can’t really remember, but every time that we do it, like, nowadays, they’re always like ‘remember! Don’t put the pickle on the tree or the cardinal on the tree because they go on last!’ So I guess they kind of remind us.”

K is a current student at the University of Southern California. They spent most of their childhood in Chicago, Illinois before their family moved to North Carolina, where they currently live when not in school. K stated that they believe the tradition started with their immediate family and has been going on for over a decade. K said they felt it was for fun, but that the ornaments were ‘special’ to them and their family. When asked to elaborate, K explained that the cardinal ornament in particular was something that their parents had bought and that belonged to their parents, which attributed it a special quality for them. As for the pickle, K explained how they had heard that “sometimes people put a pickle in the Christmas tree. Which is where the pickle ornament might come from.” K did not indicate that the pickle ornament had any specific significance to their family outside of it being part of their tradition. They also did not indicate why the pickle or cardinal were placed on the tree in their given order, but noted that doing so gave a definitive sense of the tree being completed.

As K suggested, this seems to be a seasonal ritual that indicates the official ‘closing’ or end of the decoration of the Christmas tree. By using the same, specific set of ornaments each time, K’s family all receive a clear visual signal that their decorating ritual is complete. That the cardinal ornament — the last ornament to go on the tree — is an ornament that seems to hold special sentimental value to K’s parents helps to further underscore themes of family and togetherness that typically characterize the Christmas season. It is also interesting to note that, according to K, the representation of the pickle may stem from another set of folk practices that have now been incorporated into a different context, showing the adaptability and evolution of folklore.