Tag Archives: Pickle

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. 

The Christmas Pickle

BACKGOUND: NH is a friend of the interviewer.
CONTEXT: NH describes his family’s “Christmas Pickle” tradition.
TRANSCRIPT:
Informant: “Every Christmas Eve, my grandma would hide a green pickle ornament somewhere in our Christmas tree. My three cousins and I would compete to find it first. She usually hid it deep in the tree somewhere. Whoever found it first got $10 or so.
While it does have German-American roots, and my family is of Luxembourg origin – so it kind of tracks – I also think we might do it because our last name is Heinz, like the infamous pickle-makers. You know, 57 Varieties of Pickles?”
Interviewer: “Yeah, of course. Any known relation to the company?”
Informant: “No, unfortunately.”
ANALYSIS: The Christmas Pickle is a known, semi-practiced Christmastime folk tradition originating, as NH described, in German-American households. The use of a pickle ornament could be a reference to pickles’ prominence in Germany, Poland, and Eastern Europe cuisine. The cash prize associated with the tradition goes along with the idea of Christmas as a time for gift-giving, even though there is slightly more work involved to get the cash than with a usual Christmas gift. For another version of the Christmas Pickle tradition, one that delves into the tradition’s history, see:

Churchill, Alexandra. “The Untold Story of the Christmas Pickle Ornament.” Martha Stewart, 10 Dec. 2019, https://www.marthastewart.com/1097532/decorative-past-tradition-christmas-pickle-ornament.

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 Christmas Pickle

Title: The Christmas Pickle

Category: Ceremonial Object

Informant: Kurt A. Gabbard

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: Upper 50s

Occupation: Princeton Seminary—Vice President of Business Affairs/Financial Consultant/CPA/CFO

Residence: 5031 Mead Drive/ Doylestown PA, 18902 (Suburban Home)

Date of Collection: 4/08/18

Description:

The Christmas Pickle is a tradition that takes place on the eve of Christmas. After returning from Christmas eve mass, the children are sent upstairs while the parents hide the pickle within the branches of the Christmas tree. The ornament in the shape and color of a normal pickle. After the pickle has been hidden in the tree, the children are then called downstairs to search for it. The first child to discover the pickle is then granted the first gift of Christmas.

Context/Significance:

The Christmas pickle is believed to be a German Christmas tradition but has recently been proven to have originated in the United States sometime around the late nineteenth century. The tradition is for a specific child to win the first gift of Christmas. The gift is usually a smaller preemptive Christmas gift that can usually be shared between children (i.e. a coloring book, or family board game). The tradition was passed down from my Father’s side of the family and our family has participated in the tradition for at least the past twenty four years.

Personal Thoughts:

My family has been involved with the tradition ever since my eldest brother’s birth and has evolved with our ages. When we were younger, the pickle was usually on the lower branches of the Christmas tree and was more easily located. As my brothers and I have gotten older, and since my family did not want to abandon the tradition, my parents have begun to hide the pickle more strategically to make the game more difficult to win. In recent years, the pickle has been found in the Christmas tree, in both indoor/outdoor wreaths, outdoor trees/bushes, and hidden within Christmas garland or within our Department 56 Christmas village.

Additionally, the Christmas gift has evolved into more adult items that we would like, for example: a gift card, a DVD, etc.

Image: 

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