MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Do We Hang A Pickle On The Christmas Tree?

Everyone has their own Christmas traditions, but not everyone’s are the same. Some folks open presents after breakfast, some people hang stockings up for their dog, some display homemade decorations…and then there are some folks who hide a Christmas pickle ornament in their tree. What is that all about?

The tradition, which is believed by many to have originated in Germany, surrounds placing a glossy green pickle ornament somewhere on the tree. Then, the first child who finds the pickle on Christmas morning not only gets a year of good luck, but also a special gift. The problem is that the vast majority of Germans have never heard of this tradition. A 2016 survey by a German newspaper found that 91% of German households had no idea about Christmas pickles or what they were intended to represent.

The culprit for this misplaced tradition turned out to be…clever marketing by the retail chain Woolworths. When they began importing German ornaments in the 1890s, some happened to be in the shape of a pickle. So, they created a legend behind it. This was no ordinary ornament, they said, it was a pickle steeped in the customs of an exotic land. 100 years later, in the 1990s, ornament artisans began re-sharing the pickle story, touting its green color as blending so well with the tree that a reward should be given to the child who finds it, in honor of their keen observation. And we Americans, who love ourselves a good legend, ended up embracing the tale.

It was only in the mid-1990s that an actual prominent German ornament manufacturer called Lauscha Glass Center started making the ornaments, and only after one of their workers came back from a trip to Michigan where they saw Christmas pickles adorning trees there. So, if you’re looking for something different to do this season, consider hiding the Christmas pickle. Because, whether you consider it a German tradition that few Germans have actually ever heard of, or the pinnacle of a successful American marketing ploy, it’s still fun.

Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Send me a message via social media (@AndyWebbRadioVoice), or shoot me an email at Andy@WFRE.com!