Tag Archives: christmas pickle

Christmas Pickle


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. 



Informant: So like a German tradition is you hide like a pickle––or, the parents hide a pickle––like, in the Christmas tree… And then like all the kids have to find it in the tree. And like, whoever wins––like in the olden days, they used to get like an orange. Or they might get an ornament. But that was in like the 1800s. 


Informant: Um… But so my grandma was like, “That’s gross.” So my uncle was like, “We have to do it!” And so then they got a pickle ornament instead. So they hide the ornament in the tree, and a lot of people do that now instead of getting like a real pickle.  And we like don’t give an orange cause that’s like… Boring. So it’s more like… You get like a little extra sweet or something, but it’s more like bragging rights… And I know that my German family does it too, but I don’t know if we’ve like Americanized it at all though. 

Interviewer: Did you like it as a kid?

Informant: Yeeeeah! You know, what’s a little competition on Christmas? It spices things up! Cause it’s like, “Who’s gonna win?” So it was always me and my cousin, ‘cause my sister and my little cousins were like babies. But then they started hiding it like lower down. Like that was annoying ‘cause then the little ones had a better chance of winning. 


The informant expressed that the pickle tradition has been modernized, with her family replacing an orange with a sweet, and a real pickle with a pickle ornament. The tradition has undergone variation over time. However, the fun it brings to the children remains the same, allowing the tradition to continue. Engaging in a tradition will always be a contemporary activity; traditions happen and are upheld in the present moment. The informant’s family is engaging in the tradition in the modern day, and so adjusts it to modern sensibilities. Tradition does not replicate the past, it just connects us to the past.

Pickle Tree


The following is the informant’s account of a German holiday tradition performed every winter by the informant’s family.

Main Piece

Thanksgiving, we get our trees. That’s, like, a tradition. For some reason we, ‘cause we live by a bunch of evergreen farms so we just like go out and chop one down on Thanksgiving and then, within the next week, my mom will decorate the tree, because none of us really want to, and there’s, like, this one ornament that’s shaped like a pickle that a lot of families have and I don’t know if its actually a German tradition, but my family’s pretty German so I think it is a German tradition. Basically, the pickle gets hidden like, in the tree, and then you have to like… usually the tradition is, like, Christmas morning you wake up and like, you go get the presents, and then the first person to find the pickle like wins, and in my family no one ever wins anything but you just like… you get the pride.

But then, in my family, it’s kind of like… the kids, like my younger cousins, really like it, so pretty much as soon as the tree’s decorated in, like, late November they just start playing it like whenever they want and they’ll just like, yeah. So that’s about it, you just find the pickle.


I had never encountered or heard of this tradition, but found that the hidden pickle is fairly common among Christians/Catholics of German and Dutch ancestry. Another informant of mine from Pennsylvania recognized this tradition immediately. What was also notable to me about hiding the pickle in the Christmas tree is that it bears some resemblance to the Jewish Passover tradition of hiding the afikoman, a piece of matzo bread wrapped in a special cloth, for the children to find.


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.