The Christmas Pickle: What’s the Dill?

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CULLMAN – Christmas is full of traditions whether it’s hanging mistletoe out for unsuspecting guests, leaving cookies and milk for Santa Claus, or simply going Christmas caroling with the folks from church. Everyone has specific things they do each year to make the holidays extra special.

The Christmas Pickle is one such tradition. It is considered a rather odd one, and quite honestly, nobody knows why it even exists! Here’s how it goes: In the United States, a Christmas ornament in the form of a big ole green pickle is strategically hidden on the family Christmas tree. Then on Christmas morning, the first child to locate the pickle on the tree either receives an extra present from Santa Claus or will have a whole year of good fortune.  

Many people believe the Christmas Pickle to be an old German tradition. Turns out, not many Germans have even heard of the Christmas Pickle! One theory suggests the Pickle’s origin may have been made up for marketing purposes back in the 1890s to coincide with the arrival of glass Christmas tree decorations that came to the United States from Germany. As a matter of fact, Woolworths was the first company to import these types of decorations into the United States during that time.

Another possible theory states that the tradition came from Camp Sumter during the Civil War. Bavarian-born Private John C. Lower had enlisted in the 103rd Pennsylvania Infantry, but was captured in April 1864 and taken to a prison camp. According to the story that has been passed down from generation to generation, Lower begged a guard for a pickle while starving on Christmas Eve. The guard, taking pity on the painfully thin Private, provided him a pickle. Then wouldn’t you know, the young man did not starve to death and later credited the silly pickle for saving his life. After his release from prison, Private Lower returned to his family and began the tradition of hiding a pickle on their Christmas tree each year.

The third Christmas Pickle theory comes from Berrien Springs, Michigan. It is a Victorian era tale of St. Nicholas saving two Spanish children who were trapped in a barrel of pickles by an innkeeper. Today Berrien Springs is known as the Christmas pickle capital of the world. The town holds a pickle festival each year in early December. They have even hosted a pickle parade there ever since 1992. The town is in an area of Michigan known for cucumber production.

Whether you are a fan of the pickle or not, Christmas trees all over the United States have a pickle ornament hidden somewhere on them – look closely and you just might find it. It’s worth pointing out in hopes of winning a special surprise. If you would like to start the tradition in your home, you can usually find a pickle ornament wherever Christmas decorations are sold.