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