Everything There Is To Know About the Christmas Pickle

A weird holiday tradition practiced for 100 years that no one seems to know the origins of.

By Jessie Schiewe

Don’t be surprised if you ever encounter a pickle hanging on a Christmas tree.

Don’t be surprised if you ever encounter a pickle hanging on a Christmas tree.

Looking for shit and getting rewarded for finding stuff is an integral part of many holiday traditions. During Easter, you’re hunting for eggs and the candies encased inside of them. At Passover, you’re searching for a cleverly hidden piece of matzah that reaps a cash reward. And for Christmas, depending on your heritage, you might be on the prowl for a pickle and the extra gift that comes with finding it.

What is a Christmas Pickle?

It sounds weird, but it’s a real Christmas tradition, one that involves hanging a pickle-shaped ornament in a not-so-obvious place on your tree and giving the first person who finds it a gift.

The custom likely started with people making ornaments out of actual cucumbers, but now you can find them made out of glass, metal, felt, plastic, and wood. They’re sold pretty much everywhere. You can buy fancy bespoke ones on Etsy or spend a few bucks and get cheap, mass-produced ones from Dollar Tree.

Where did the Christmas Pickle come from?

The most well-known theory is that they originated in Germany, where the term for them is Weihnachtsgurken. That’s where Nikita Drachuk, a glassblower in Ukraine, believes they are from.

He is the owner of Glass Symphony, a small, family-run studio that sells hundreds of glass pieces through Etsy and Amazon, including six different types of Christmas Pickle ornaments.  Though he isn’t sure exactly when the quirky cucumbers were added to his family’s catalog, he does know whom they learned about them from: “relatives from Germany.”

You can buy this exact Christmas Pickle ornament at Dollar Tree for 99 cents or on Amazon for $1.69 (plus $4.99 shipping). (  JS  )

You can buy this exact Christmas Pickle ornament at Dollar Tree for 99 cents or on Amazon for $1.69 (plus $4.99 shipping). (JS)

But is the Weihnachtsgurken really some long-forgotten German practice? Or is it an American tradition that was started so long ago we can’t get the facts straight?

Those who think the Christmas Pickle is not in fact German like to bring up the fact that most Germans have no idea what it is. There are stats to back this up. A few years ago, a German polling agency interviewed more than 2,000 German people and found that 91-percent had never heard of the Christmas Pickle.

Even glass makers in Germany who make money selling Christmas pickle designs admit they never heard of them until recently. Sascha Müller is a glass artist from Lauscha, a small mountain village in the north of the country famous for manufacturing Christmas decorations. He didn’t learn about Christmas Pickle ornaments until he visited the United States for the first time in the 1990s. The cucumbers are now one of his best-selling ornaments — rivaled only by Santa Claus and colored glass balls — and he manufactures 50,000 of them a year.

If the Christmas Pickle tradition began in the U.S., there are those who say it was the doing of the late 19th-century clothing company, Woolworths. History has it that Woolworths starting importing glass Christmas tree decorations in the shapes of fruits, vegetables, and nuts from Germany — and later France — in the 1890s, becoming the first American company to do so. Cucumbers, presumably, were included in that bunch. As a marketing tactic to convince shoppers to buy the funny-shaped veggie, Woolworths concocted a fake German backstory with the promise of an extra present to endear them to children and parents.

No matter where Christmas Pickles came from, it doesn’t matter because it worked. Christmas Pickles are now part of the fabric of American traditions, a weird cultural mash-up that has seeped into our popular culture through cameos in films like Bad Santa and displays set up at Urban Outfitters.

They’re also, as of two weeks ago, officially considered memes, which we guess, in this day and age, is how you know you’ve made it.

Let’s relish this moment.

 

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