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Q: No christmas pickles in Germany ( No Answer,   10 Comments )
Subject: No christmas pickles in Germany
Category: Relationships and Society > Cultures
Asked by: lijin-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 01 Aug 2003 16:44 PDT
Expires: 31 Aug 2003 16:44 PDT
Question ID: 237997
I grew up and live in Germany, but I know quite a few people who are
U.S. residents. During one of our conversations at christmas time I
found out that everybody believes that "hiding the pickle" for
Christmas is a German tradition that has been adopted by Americans.
Unfortunately, I had never heard of the mysterious pickle before,
neither had my all-German friends or neighbors. Of course my American
friends were totally frustrated and in disbelief when they found out
that they couldn't buy those "original German" pickles at christmas
time in Germany.
So how can it be that we have a tradition, that every American knows
of, but not a single German (apart from those who heard the
"tradition" from Americans)?

Request for Question Clarification by scriptor-ga on 01 Aug 2003 17:41 PDT
Dear lijin,

First, I would like to say that I am German. And I, too, have *never*
heard of this amazingly strange custom ever before. Depending on the
region and individual tastes, we Germans decorate our Christmas trees
with colorful glass balls, candles, dried fruit, paper chains, small
stars, tinsel, gingerbread, almost anything - but never with
I can't offer you a definitive answer, but a theory of mine. Glass
factories in Germany and Austria used to be (and still are) famous for
their mouth-blown Christmas tree decorations. Most were spheric, but
they also had other shapes. These decorations were very popular in the
USA, and I can imagine that some of those items that were by chance
cucumber-shaped inspired the Americans' imagination, leading to
amusing little games like the search for the "Christmas Pickle" in the
tree. And because the decorations' boxes had German inscriptions,
these newly invented games became connected with Germany. And I can
easily imagine that someone, maybe not to appear ignorant, maybe for a
joke, told his children or friends that the pickle search they
practised was an old traditional custom in Germany - that's why they
make such strange decorative objects, right?
And since old customs almost automatically enjoy a certain respect, no
matter how silly they are ... well, you know the rest. America thinks
that Germans put pickles on their Christmas trees. Germans don't even
know that they are supposed to do such an odd thing.

As I said, that's only my theory, and I can't prove it at all. So I do
not post it as an answer. But it's a very fascinating question...

Best regards,

Clarification of Question by lijin-ga on 01 Aug 2003 18:25 PDT
Dear Scriptor,

After the pickle incident I did some minor research myself but gave up
shortly afterwards. It was obvious that the stories about the pickle
origins were composed by Americans. The explanations proved to be
quite inconsistent with one another and relatively vague in general,
although the word "German" kept recurring.
I just find it odd how an entire nation can so firmly believe in
something that is *totally* not true. I really would like to know how
that happened.

I had already thought about giving up on software engineering and
getting into the "genuine German pickle" business. Maybe I should
have, I would be a millionaire by now. :)

While I appreciate your effort to explain the phenomenon, I hunger for
more hard facts. The truth must be out there, somewhere...

And thank you for not putting pickles in your Christmas tree! Had you
replied  "I am German, and I even put *two* pickles, inherited from my
great-grandmother, in our family tree", I would have had to see a
psychiatrist. ;)

Best Regards,

Li Jin
There is no answer at this time.

Subject: Re: No christmas pickles in Germany
From: bobbie7-ga on 01 Aug 2003 17:51 PDT
This may interest you:

The controversial Christmas Pickle - is it German, German-American or
just American?
A collection of opinions and surmises
Subject: Re: No christmas pickles in Germany
From: tlspiegel-ga on 01 Aug 2003 18:39 PDT
Bobbie found the same link I did, plus I was able to dig this one up for you:

Best regards,

Subject: Re: No christmas pickles in Germany
From: tutuzdad-ga on 01 Aug 2003 18:41 PDT
I'd love to answer your question but it appears that the origin of the
tradition is all but forgotten (or in dispute). Since the question
cannot be answered, I'll offer this to you as a comment: This is the
most detailed account of each of the suspected origins I could find
(some bits are fact, and some are legend), none of which can be
verified - but, they are all very interesting.

"The Christmas Pickle Story"

Subject: Re: No christmas pickles in Germany
From: tutuzdad-ga on 01 Aug 2003 18:44 PDT
Wow, tlspiegel! Was that simultaneous or what? Are you related to
Radar O'Reilly by chance?

Subject: Re: No christmas pickles in Germany
From: tlspiegel-ga on 01 Aug 2003 18:55 PDT
Hi Li Jin,

Here's a couple more...

Christmas Legends Two

The Medieval tale of the pickle tell of two Spanish boys traveling
home from boarding school for the holidays. Weary from travel, they
stop at an inn for the night. The inn keeper, a mean and evil man,
steals the boys' possessions, and stuffs the boys into a pickle
barrel. That evening, St. Nicholas stops in for a rest at the inn, and
becomes aware of the boys' plight. He taps the pickle barrel with his
staff, and the boys are magically restored. The boys thank St.
Nicholas, and continue happily home for Christmas. Through time, this
Victorian tradition has been celebrated by hiding a Hand blown glass
pickle on the Christmas tree, and whoever finds it on Christmas
morning receives a special gift.


But most likely it is an Urban Legend!

From Snopes Urban Legends

1. Urban Legends Reference Pages: Christmas (Festive Season
Superstitions and folk beliefs about Christmas.
  Origins: Christmas is a holiday steeped in superstition and folk
belief. Almost every tradition we unthinkingly observe during the
festive season has its...
  ...have any idea of the whys of our symbols and rituals. We know to
erect a Christmas tree, for instance, but we don't know why we're
supposed to, other...
  ...We have to step far back into the past to locate the origins of
many of our Christmas customs. In long-ago times when winter snows and
cold cloaked the...
Tue, 08 Apr 2003 06:50:52 GMT 

A little-known German tradition calls for the Christmas pickle to be
the last item hung on the tree when parents deck it out on Christmas
Eve, long after the little ones are asleep. Come Christmas morning,
the sharp-eyed youngster who finds this glass pickle-shaped ornament
is entitled to a special present and trades the pickle back to his
parents to get it.

Best regards,

Subject: Re: No christmas pickles in Germany
From: lijin-ga on 01 Aug 2003 19:04 PDT
Thank you all for your comments! I appreciate your effort!
Those links are indeed interesting, although I'm not sure if they
helped resolving my confusion. ;)

This question was my first ever, so I lack familiarity with the
process. If nobody provides an answer to this question, will it just
time out after a month?

Best Regards,

Li Jin
Subject: Re: No christmas pickles in Germany
From: tutuzdad-ga on 01 Aug 2003 19:06 PDT
Subject: Re: No christmas pickles in Germany
From: missy-ga on 02 Aug 2003 21:40 PDT
Li Jin,

Don't faint...but I know at least a dozen German families who put a
glass pickle in their Christmas trees.

Hey!  I said *not* to faint!

In 1987 and 1988, I lived in a small town called Altena, in Westfalen.
 I was a 16 year old high schooler, abroad as an exchange student with
AFS and the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange program.

In the weeks prior to Christmas, my Gasteltern informed me that I was
not going to be permitted to help decorate the Christmas tree. 
"German Christmas trees are *different*", they told me, "it has to be
a surprise!"  On Christmas Eve, I was locked out of the living room,
sent to my room to write letters and wrap presents and keep my nose
out of the decorating.

Early Christmas morning, I was led upstairs and shown a gorgeous
sight:  a fresh cut fir, lavished with scarlet glass balls, real lead
tinsel (Stanniol), glass birds with real feathers in the tails and -
glory of glories - real candles!

And a pickle.  A shiny, deep green, glass pickle.

My Gastmutti was horrified when I asked whatever a pickle would be
doing in an otherwise beautiful tree.  She could not believe, given my
German heritage, that I had no idea why there was a pickle in the
tree.  (My family comes from Pforzheim, we've only been in the US
since 1908.  I was brought up by my very traditional German
grandparents from the age of 12 onwards.)  I explained that no, I had
never heard of putting a pickle in the tree.  She was quite
exasperated with me, as one of my gifts was a glass pickle purchased
from the Lüdenscheider Weihnachtsmarkt - she thought I should have one
from Germany, to hang on my own Christmas tree when I moved away from
home and went to college.

Here is my pickle:

Now, I related this story to my grandparents when I spoke to them on
Christmas Day that year, and they assured me that they had never been
raised with any such tradition.  And yet, my friends at the
Burggymnasium all asked if I had found the pickle, or if my
Gastschwester had.  I thought it was a little weird, but no more weird
than any of the other things I had encountered in Germany (don't get
me started about school).

I know I didn't hallucinate that Christmas - I have the pickle, I have
the letters I wrote home, and I have my journal entries, in which I
exclaim that the pickle in the tree is one of the funniest things I've
ever heard of!

I made a few phone calls today, to try to track down the origins of
the pickle story.  Mutti, she had no idea.  "My mother always put a
pickle in the tree," she said.  Same for Vati - in fact, the pickle in
my Gasteltern's collection had been given to Vati by his mother.  Both
Omas, alas, have long since passed away, so there was no asking them
where the tradition came from.

Friends are split.  Ela, Michael and Jens, who all live in Altena,
have passed the pickle tradition on to their own children.  Nils and
Ralf, who live in Hannover, have never heard of such a thing, and
neither have their parents or grandparents.  Mina, who lives in
Heidelberg, has a pickle, but doesn't know of any neighbors who do and
doesn't know anything more than "Mami put one in our tree every year,
and gave one to me when I married.  She did it because Oma had done
it."  Ilse, in Osnabrück, is convinced I dreamed it, but her husband
claims to vaguely recall such a tradition from his childhood.

Solid information has proven elusive.  How odd!

My best guess, Jin Li, is that the pickle is probably one of those
strange, quirky, regional customs that leaked out a bit, though no one
can say when it began or from whence it came.  It only takes one odd
villager to start a fad!

Good luck in your quest to get to the bottom of this!

Subject: Re: No christmas pickles in Germany
From: lijin-ga on 03 Aug 2003 01:31 PDT
Dear Missy,

how very interesting! Thank you so much for this very surprising
So there are actually people in Germany, who traditionally hang
pickles in their Christmas trees!

(I know the place your family comes from fairly well. I live in
Karlsruhe and pass Pforzheim every day on workdays, on my way to
Sindelfingen. No pickles in Sindelfingen, either.)

Your comment gave me a few pointers on where to look for more
information. Local newspapers in the Lüdenscheid area, or the websites
of the cities and towns nearby. Also, the whole thing might make an
entertaining little story for one of the major German magazines -
surely beats the mating habits of wannabe celebrities.
At least I feel that it might eventually be possible to resolve this
issue to some extent, even if the question how it became so widely
spread in the U.S. might never be answered. That could be a rewarding
diploma thesis for someone. *hint* :)

Again - thank you so much!

Best Regards,

Li Jin
Subject: Re: No christmas pickles in Germany
From: highroller-ga on 12 Aug 2003 17:15 PDT
Hi all,

well, let me put my 2 cents in :-)
I'm german, living in the US, needless to say that in my 40 years in
germany I have never come across anybody in germany who would put
pickles in a christmas tree, here is my theory:
I strongly believe it is a mix up of words. Just as americans often do
have a problem with and rarely differentiate between "dutch" and
"deutsch", it may very well stem from a mix up of "pickle" and
"pickel" (the pronounciation is exactly the same). What is an old
german tradition is that the christmas tree is decorated on the top
with whats called a "Christbaum-Spitze". Now, many of them resemble in
shape and form the infamous "Pickel" of the helmets of german
policemen and soldiers before and during World War I. I could very
well imagine that the tradition of putting this "pickel" on the
christmas tree made its way to the US (through german immigrants)
however, when the german immigrant referred to it as a "pickel" the
americans took it for "pickle" so probably the word got around that
its a german tradition to put a "pickle" in the christmas tree.
Now, this might be the answer, but then...maybe not. Anyways, I think
its at least a nice theory.

So long

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