Tag Archives: Christmas Tree

Pickle in the Tree

Background: The informant is a 55 year old mother of three who was born in Pennsylvania. She currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She moved to Chicago when she was 28 years old. She started participating in the tradition after she was married and her three children were born. Since her children are now older, she also has her children’s romantic partners participate in the children – and grandchildren one day.

Context: The context of the piece was in the informant’s house. The information opened a cabinet and found the pickle sitting inside – leftover from being taken off the tree back in December. She gave a sound of surprise, laughed, and mentioned how it always happens each year without fail.

Text:

TC: “Well, every single year we hang up the pickle on the tree. Typically, me and my husband will wake up early in the morning, around 5 or 6 am, and spread a while trying to find the perfect hiding spot. We make sure nobody can enter the living room [where the tree is] to make sure there is no cheating in finding the pickle, until everyone is awake.

Me: Why did you start hanging the pickle?

TC: I never did it when I was younger but I heard about from friends and thought it would be a fun way to start Christmas morning. As a lot of my traditions, I think it’s Germanic but… that was an accident [laughs]. I wanted to… do a little more than just opening presents and stockings, and it brought the kids in for a game.

Me: Will you keep doing it?

TC; I want my children, their partners, my grandchildren – everyone to participate in it. So, yes, I do plan to keep hanging the pickle up, though we may have to get a bigger tree.

Me: That sounds fun. So, what does someone get when they find the pickle?

TC: As with hanging the pickle, my husband and I always shop together and find the weirdest gift we can and buy it as the “pickle gift”. Let me think, one year, we had something with My Little Pony; we had a spiky rubber ball; this year it was a mind game, where you had to figure out how to get all the colors on the same side, similar to a Rubik’s cube. It’s honestly a fun tradition for us also to go shopping for the pickle gift.

Analysis:

Informant:  To the information, the pickle is a sign of family strength. The pickle adds a fun element to the beginning of Christmas and allows her to have fun as well.

Mine: The pickle emphasizes globalization and how traditions can widely spread, even if their original root is unknown. I don’t believe traditions can only be celebrated if they stick true to their origins but can change and evolve as time passes, they aren’t supposed to be stagnant. As in the case of the pickle, it has evolved to fit modern times – it’s utilized to bring families together, inspire sibling friendship, and it’s meant to be utter fun. Also, it showcases how one tradition can inspire other new ones. The informant finds it a yearly ritual to go shopping with her husband, an event that strengthens their bond. Each tradition, in this way, is connected in a spiderweb in inspiring and creating other ones. 

PICKLE IN THE CHRISTMAS TREE

MAIN PIECE: 

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’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE PIECE:

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. 

REFLECTION:

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.

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

The Fort of Christmas Cheer

Original Script: “When I was younger, after Christmas…probably about two or three days after Christmas, me, my dad, my sister, and my brother, would collect Christmas trees for a Christmas tree fort. We would wait till people started to leave Christmas trees out in their drive ways, and we would go and drive around our neighborhood in our big car, with rope, and tie the Christmas trees to the back of our car, and make a couple rounds, so we were dragging the trees. We would have over 20 trees, sometimes more, and he would create a perimeter in our backyard of rope and lean the trees against the rope and then put them on their sides to make an infrastructure of different rooms and hallways, and he would stack the trees on top of each other so their would be a roof. Me, my brother, and sister and would crawl into the rooms and trim the trees to make the rooms bigger. We would sometimes spy on the neighbors through the fort, with binoculars. And when they came over we would throw berries at them. It was huge, basically we would declare war on neighbors, sometimes we would let other kids play in it. When it was time to throw the trees out, we would put them outside our house—it basically covered up the whole driveway.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Jessica Patrick grew up in a predominantly Irish household. Celebrating Christmas every year with her family. Now that the kids are older–her and her brother in college and her younger sister a junior in high school—they do not do the tradition as much as they use to do it when they were little. While everyone in the household did celebrate Christmas—it was usually the father, Jessica, and her siblings that did the fort building.

Context of the Performance: Past Christmas traditions celebrated in Dallas, Texas with all the children in Jessica’s family.

Thoughts about the piece: After interviewing Jessica, I found it interesting how I have never heard/seen anything from this tradition before. While it is not necessarily a representation of heritage, it is a mode of activity that represents the past and has interesting motifs about the past—which is also considered tradition. For example, the building of a fort (a house) made out of entirely logs, the kids helping the father build the house, even the kids acting that the fort was their home—even though they had a perfectly acceptable house—with a heater—was all representations of the past. It also represents that of a celebration in a narrative format: the tree hunting being the ritual, the playing in the house being the main event, and the taking apart of the fort and putting the trees in the front yard would be the closing ceremony. Furthermore, I believe this event represents a classic “American Dream”(commonly known as the Horatio Alger myth) building a home for oneself, a dream, out of nothing. This tradition can also be correlated to group identity, especially with the practicing of the ritual and the exclusion to other groups: “sometimes we would let other kids play in it.”

Pickle XMas Ornament

Every year at Christmas after his family has decorated the Christmas tree, my informants mother will hide a pickle shaped Christmas Ornament on the tree. The first of the children to find the ornament, and bring it to her, gets a special present from her.

 

My informants mother (who is the active bearer in his family for this tradition) is German, however he is not sure where this tradition originated. There are a number of possible explanations, including simply the fact that the green of the pickle ornament is hard to find amongst the green of a pine tree, and the fact that sending children on a search for a phallic object may be preparing them, at least on some level, for the sexual encounters they will have in the future. In any case, my informant just enjoys competing with his siblings for a chance at an extra present at Christmas time.