Tag Archives: Christmas Ornament

Christmas Pickle

Content: 

C: It’s really pretty straightforward. Um, so ever since your mom was little, we put this pickle ornament on the Christmas tree. Just like a ceramic little pickle. But, um, you put it on and, and whoever finds it first wins a present. 

Me: Where did you get your pickle ornament?

C: Um… I think mine right now is from The Christmas Mouse.

Me: What’s the prize for the winner?

C: Anything. Candy or money or something like that. 

Background: C was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, where she resides today. Her family claims German heritage. The Christmas Mouse is a local holiday decor store. 

Context: This story was told to me in-person by my grandmother, C. 

Analysis: The Christmas Pickle has always been a big deal for my family. I grew up with two sisters, and we often got competitive in the days after Thanksgiving when the tree was being decorated. When we spend Christmas at my mom’s, there isn’t a prize for finding the pickle. I remember us having prizes when we were younger, but she stopped as we became teenagers. Now, finding the pickle is purely for bragging rights. When we go to my grandmother’s for the holiday, however, she still takes the hunt very seriously. The prize nowadays is often a gift card or mug- things that are more appealing to adults than candy and toys. 

Nutcracker Ornaments on the Tree

Background information: AH is a 21-year-old raised in the Bay Area. Her parents are African-American and white, and she has one younger brother. She shared a Christmas tradition she remembers from when she was a child, that she still practices today when she’s home for Winter Break.

AH: My brother and I always take turns choosing from our nutcracker ornaments to put on the tree. I always kinda thought that we considered it bad luck to not put them up, uh, but now that I think about it I’m sure it just started because my mom didn’t want my brother and I to fight over who got to put what ornament on the tree (laughs). They’re like made of glass and come in a wooden box with a certificate of authenticity and I know she got them as like a family heirloom type thing, probably because she had a bunch of ornaments my grandma gave to her. Anyways, I don’t really know the origin or anything…but it’s fun! It’s just something that I always think of fondly when I think of Christmas, which is cute. We always do it as the last thing too, so like, once we’re both done taking turns it feels like it’s officially the holidays.

Me: Do you still do this every year?

AH: Yes (laughs), even though we’re all older now it’s just for fun. It is a kind of ritual for us, probably.

This piece of folklore is one that is very specific to AH’s family, however, as she was telling me this, I realized that my brothers and I also did something similar as kids, probably for the same reason of my parents not wanting us to fight over who got to do what. It’s very cute that something that may begin in childhood like this can become so significant in a person’s memories. The fact that AH created her own sort of superstition related to this practice (connecting bad luck to the ritual of putting up ornaments) shows us how significant these traditions become over time.

Hidden Pickle – Christmas Game

Description of Informant

NM (49) is a Massachusetts native living in California. He commits to a regular exercise routine and owns/operates a metal decking supply firm. NM enjoys strategy games, world news/current events, and participates in a weekly chess match with friends.

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Game

Hidden Pickle is a family-oriented hunt-style game, reminiscent of an Easter Egg hunt. The game master, usually an adult or the host, will hide a pickle-shaped ornament on the Christmas tree. The players, usually children, will then scour the branches. The first individual to find the ornament delivers it to the game master in exchange for a prize. For NM, the prize has always been a Christmas tree ornament. The challenge comes from the green pickle camouflaging among the green branches.

Context of Use

Hidden Pickle is played during Christmas time, when the home and tree are fully decorated. NM has always played Pickle on Christmas Eve, though he has adjusted to Christmas Day to accommodate guest’s schedules. The game is not the main event of the celebration.

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Context of Interview

The informant, NM, is met in his garden by the collector, BK, his nephew. They speak poolside.

Interview

BK: Can you describe the rules of this game?

NM: Yeah, well, so the rules with [my mother] were: the pickle is hidden somewhere in that tree. And, and you know, I’m a little bit– with, with you guys, and because it’s open to such little kids in our situation, I tried to put it in a position that you don’t need to move the branches because I don’t want a bunch of shuffling and whatnot. But we were– since we were introduced to it as adults… There were definitely– she definitely had it in places where you needed to do some light moving in the tree. So, but yeah, we weren’t we were, we were pretty crazy. But we were gentle. So it went to the tree and then and then there were several years where the tree just did not have good hiding places. So then she would just put it in the Christmas tree room somewhere. But usually, I’m able to find someplace in the tree for, for, for our purposes, that it’s hidden enough, but I think she thought we needed more of a challenge where it could be in the tree, but it also could be somewhere in the room. But yeah, no real rules other than whoever found it gets the, gets the pickle. And, and if it happens back-to-back years… Good for you!

BK: What type of prizes are offered?

NM: She’s introduced it always as a Christmas tree ornament. So I yeah, that’s what I– that’s, that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. It’s probably– Yeah. Now that you’re asking, I’m gonna have to Google it and see what other people do. Because it never even occurred to me to see what the– what other rules were.

BK: What my immediate guess is, is wherever this started, whether or not it was a pickle, there was a green, edible thing that must have been hidden in the tree. And I bet the prize was eating the treat. So the prize was getting to eat the thing that you found.

NM: That’s not a bad theory.

Collector’s Reflection

With a bit of research, the Christmas pickle’s confusing past gets even more convoluted. NM’s assumption of German origin seems to be widely held, however, several possible origins are posted across the internet, from a starving Civil War veteran to a Spanish Innkeeper. A prominent suggestion is that the game is actually fakelore! That is to say, it was created to promote the import of glass-blown ornaments from Europe into America in the 1890s. 

Regardless, the game seems to be broadly recognized in the United States; NM mentioned a friend had seen a pickle ornament in a shopping mall Christmas display. My theory, that perhaps the ornament is a stand-in for an edible treat, seems to hold no water. But I’ll echo NM, I didn’t think it was too bad of a theory!

For another description and some origin theories for Hidden Pickle, please see:

“Why do some people hang ornaments that look like pickles on their Christmas trees?”. Tampa Bay Magazine: 91. November–December 2011. Retrieved 24 April 2021.

LINK: https://books.google.com/books?id=gwdRUx4dNA4C&lpg=PA91&vq=Christmas%20pickle&pg=PA91#v=snippet&q=Christmas%20pickle&f=false

Christmas Pickle – II

Informant: On Christmas, my family hides a pickle on the Christmas tree. All of us kids—all the children have to find it. Like we look for it on the tree, and the person who does gets a special prize.

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California who is originally from South Bend, Indiana. She is an active member at the USC Caruso Catholic Center. She informed me that the “pickle in the Christmas tree” was a tradition she learned from her mother, who learned it from her father, who learned it from his mother—a German immigrant.

This is the second account of the Christmas pickle tradition that I collected. While the first informant told me “Santa” was responsible for hiding the pickle Christmas night, this informant explained that her parents were responsible for hiding the pickle—a fact which all the children participating were aware of. The informant also told me that the “special prize” in question was usually something small and sweet to eat.

To see the first Christmas pickle account, see Christmas Pickle – I.

 

Christmas Pickle – I

Informant: Our family has a pickle ornament we leave out for Santa on Christmas Eve, and then when Santa comes, he hides it on the tree and the first person to find it in the morning gets to open the first present. I always thought it was weird, but apparently there’s some German cultural thing behind it. I don’t know, my dad’s family does it.

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California. She is originally from Florida, and has younger siblings who also participate in the “pickle hunt.”

The tradition of hiding a pickle in the Christmas tree is a well-documented one, although several sources claim that the practice didn’t originate in Germany, as many claim, but is instead an American invention. Nevertheless, the arguably German pickle-hiding has many variations. In most, an ornament resembling a pickle is hidden in the tree, sometimes by parents and sometimes by St. Nick (or “Santa”). On Christmas morning, the children of the house will search the tree; whoever finds the pickle receives some kind of prize—candy, an extra present, the right to be the first to open a present, et cetera. Oddly enough, another informant I interviewed also told me about her family’s Christmas pickle tradition, which varies slightly from this one.

To see the second Christmas pickle account, see Christmas Pickle – II.

Citation: “Legend of the Pickle.” County Fair Pickles. County Fair Food Products, 2009. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.