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Q: story behind hanging a pickle on a Christmas tree ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: story behind hanging a pickle on a Christmas tree
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: bigred69-ga
List Price: $15.00
Posted: 04 Nov 2004 06:15 PST
Expires: 04 Dec 2004 06:15 PST
Question ID: 424317
It is good luck to be the person who finds the pickle ornament hanging
on the Christmas tree.  What is the origin of this story?
Subject: Re: story behind hanging a pickle on a Christmas tree
Answered By: redhoss-ga on 04 Nov 2004 07:46 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello bigred69, I can't believe that I had never heard of this
interesting legend. I think you will be very entertained by the
answer. I know that I was.

A collection of opinions and surmises
Webmaster Note: Contrary to what you may be thinking, this is a
serious issue which seems to get German expatriots truly in a pickle.
It is as much a transgression to think of the pickle as a German
tradition as it is to believe in the German-ness of German chocolate
cake or the dreaded Schnitzelbank. There were numerous things I
encountered in Germany that were supposedly American, but I can't say
my passions were ever roused to a comparable degree by any of these
miconceptions. The German-American pickle truly creates a sour taste
in the mouths of many Germans. Read on and maybe you'll get a taste.

You really need to read this entire webpage. It is pretty lengthy, but
has some pertinent information.

This is a must read discussion of the story that will not allow the copy function.

What's with the German Christmas Pickle?

It never fails. Every December someone asks about the German Christmas
pickle ornament that's supposed to have a long tradition in Germany.

Here's the pickle ?legend? from one Web site: ?A very old Christmas
eve tradition in Germany was to hide a pickle [ornament] deep in the
branches of the family Christmas Tree. The parents hung the pickle
last after all the other ornaments were in place. In the morning they
knew the most observant child would receive an extra gift from St.
Nicholas. The first adult who finds the pickle traditionally gets good
luck for the whole year.? This Christmas pickle story, with a few
minor variations, can be found all over the Web and in print inside
the ornament package. It says that Germans hang a pickle-shaped glass
ornament on the Christmas tree hidden away so it's difficult to find.
The first child to find it on Christmas morning gets a special treat.

Of course, anyone familiar with German Christmas customs can see the
flaws in this ?legend.? First of all, the German St. Nick doesn't show
up on Christmas Eve. He arrives on the 5th or 6th of December. Nor do
German children open their presents on Christmas morning. That happens
on Christmas Eve in Germany. (See our German Christmas Guide for more
about German Christmas customs.)

But the biggest problem with the German pickle (saure Gurke) tradition
is that no one in Germany has ever heard of it. Over the years this
question has often come up on the AATG (German Teachers) forum.
Teachers of German in the US and in Europe have never been able to
find a native German who has even heard of the pickle legend, much
less carried out this Christmas custom. It seems to have been some
German-American invention by someone who wanted to sell more glass
ornaments for Christmas.

1847 wurden die ersten Früchte und Nüsse aus Glas [in Lauscha]
hergestellt, aus denen sich bald die Weihnachtsbaumkugeln
entwickelten. Erst wurden diese mit einer Blei-Legierung verspiegelt,
später sorgte Silbernitrat für den weihnachtlichen Glanz. - ZDF - (See
German Christmas Ornaments for more about Lauscha and glass

A number of years ago when she was About's ?Germany for Visitors?
Guide, Rita Mace Walston wrote an article about the Christmas pickle
ornament tradition. Despite her German background, she also had never
heard of it. She wrote: ?I did some first-hand research, asking
friends, acquaintances, and even a few Christmas market vendors if
they knew of the custom. I consulted my family in Bavaria, my best
friend in Swabia, and folks who hailed from the different regions of
Germany. No one had a clue as to what I was talking about. One
acquaintance wanted to know if I wasn't trying to pull one over on

Then Rita heard from someone who claimed to have an answer that might
solve the mystery. A descendent of a soldier who fought in the
American Civil War, John Lower (Hans Lauer?), born in Bavaria in 1842,
wrote to tell about a family story that had to do with a Christmas
pickle. According to family lore, ?John Lower was captured and sent to
prison in Andersonville, Georgia. ...In poor health and starving, he
begged a guard for just one pickle before he died. The guard took pity
on him and found a pickle for John Lower. According to family legend,
John said that the pickle?by the grace of God?gave him the mental and
physical strength to live on. Once he was reunited with his family he
began a tradition of hiding a pickle on the Christmas tree. The first
person who found the pickle on Christmas morning would be blessed with
a year of good fortune.?

Whether this Bavarian-American pickle story is true or not, and if it
really gave rise to the Christmas pickle legend or not is open to
question. It's a long way from a real pickle and a glass pickle
ornament! The Civil War ended in 1865, but glass Christmas tree
ornaments did not become popular in the US until around 1880, when
F.W. Woolworth began importing them from Germany. However, one thing
is certain: the ?German? Christmas pickle tradition is neither German
nor a tradition in Germany.

The Lauscha Connection
There may be, however, a somewhat tenuous German connection to the
glass pickle ornament. As previously mentioned, glass Christmas
ornaments were being produced in Germany. As early as 1597, the small
town of Lauscha, now in the German state of Thuringia (Thüringen), was
known for its glass-blowing (Glasbläserei). The small industry of
glass-blowers produced drinking glasses and glass containers. In 1847
a few of the Lauscha craftsmen began producing glass ornaments
(Glasschmuck) in the shape of fruits and nuts. These Glaskugeln were
made in a unque hand-blown process combined with molds (formgeblasener
Christbaumschmuck). Soon these unique Christmas ornaments were being
exported to other parts of Europe, as well as England and the US.

Today Lauscha exports pickle ornaments to the US?where they are sold
along with the fake German tradition story. As far as I know, the
pickle ornaments are not marketed in Germany at all.

After reading all of this myself, I believe that no one actually knows
the true origin of this legend. I think that it is something that must
be taken in the same context as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and
Bigfoot. Any version of the Christmas Pickle makes a great story to
tell to children and is a great family tradition to pass down for
generations to come.

Hope you find the Pickle first this year, Redhoss
bigred69-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
I received the answer fast, from many sources, and liked the fact that
one researcher had not heard of the pickle ornament tradition and said

Subject: Re: story behind hanging a pickle on a Christmas tree
From: larre-ga on 04 Nov 2004 08:00 PST
In addition to the very informative information located by RedHoss,
Christmas Pickles in Germany were also discussed in the Comments of
this previous Question:

Subject: Re: story behind hanging a pickle on a Christmas tree
From: probonopublico-ga on 04 Nov 2004 09:10 PST
A very clever bit of marketing!

I had never heard of it before.

Truly inspired!

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