The American Christmas Pickle

Tis the season to be briny!

“Christmas Pickle” is the American tradition of hiding a pickle ornament on the Christmas tree. The first child to find it wins a prize or gets to open the first present on Christmas morning.

If you have a pickle ornament on your tree along with the snowman, angel, and reindeer ones, you are probably taking part in this tradition.

The practice’s beginnings are a little cloudy (or should that be briny? ), but it may have started with a marketing trick used by Woolworths in the late 1800s. At the time, the store had German ornaments in the shape of a pickle they needed to sell.

A Civil War Tradition?

According to one version of the tale, John Lower gave birth to the custom somewhere in the 19th century. Lower, a soldier from Bavaria who served in the Union army during the American Civil War, became gravely ill during incarceration at the Andersonville Prison Camp. He passed away there. On what should have been his deathbed, he made a request for a pickle, which ultimately led to his complete recovery. After that, Lower made it a tradition to always hang a pickle from his Christmas tree.

Or strictly from Woolworths?

Another legend is that a buyer for the Woolworth retail chain imprudently bought a large shipment of pickle-shaped glass ornaments for the company. Woolworths, by the way, was the 19th-century equivalent of the Dollar Store. No one could figure out what to do with them. So the marketing department developed a marketing campaign. They gave the green glass pickles a history. The ornaments from Germany were considered good luck charms. Hang one on the tree to please old Saint Nick. He would then leave some extra presents for the household.

Whatever the real story is, it’s still a huge Midwest tradition to hang a pickle ornament on the holiday tree.