Though it’s true that Snooki took it a little far on “Jersey Shore” with her pickle obsession, I think everyone can agree that we love a good gherkin. Dill, sweet, Kosher, even koolickles (pickles soaked in Kool-Aid, because kids are gross) are the best part of any good sandwich or even work as a satisfying snack. And today I learned that they’re also an important part of Christmas.
I don’t necessarily crave pickles during the Christmas season. Gingerbread, yes. Every single kind of pie? Also yes. But you won’t find me finishing my eggnog and following it up with a swig of pickle juice on Christmas Eve.
Nevertheless, pickles play a role come Christmastime -- in ornament form. There’s a tradition called Weihnachtsgurke (“Christmas Pickle” in German, fittingly), and the premise is simple: A pickle ornament is hidden somewhere in the family Christmas tree on Christmas Eve (no earlier!), and it’s the kids’ job to find it before their siblings and cousins. The lucky child gets some kind of treat, like a reward or being able to open their presents first.
It’s a fun concept, albeit a strange one. It’s mostly popular in the Midwest with all-but-unknown roots. It’s definitely German in nature, given the name, but most Germans have never even heard of the custom. More likely than not, it’s the work of Germans who immigrated to those midwest states way back when.
If you want to start the tradition in your own home, go with one of these two theories when you describe the origins of the Christmas Pickle. One story claims that a German Civil War soldier was desperate for a pickle, and when his Confederate captors provided him with one, it ended up sustaining him. A simpler story says that St. Nicholas rescued two little boys who were trapped in a pickle barrel by an evil innkeeper.
Either of these anecdotes trumps the more probable reason for the Christmas Pickle: a good old-fashioned marketing ploy.
You’ve heard of F. W. Woolworth Company, yes? It’s lauded as America’s original five-and-dime. Turns out, the business wanted to sell German Christmas tree ornaments in the 1840s shaped like fruits and veggies, and somehow the pickle made its way into consumers’ shopping carts.
These days, glass makers are putting out upwards of 50,000 Weihnachtsgurken every year. Don’t tell them about Black Friday.
The pickle ornaments all over the internet are actually kind of cute -- I don’t have kids to trick into ruthless competition with each other, but maybe I’ll throw a few on my tree for good fun.