Where Does The Pickle Ornament Come From?

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in Candy Blog

Do you have a Christmas pickle ornament on your tree? 

If you said yes, do you know the story behind it?

Allow us to do some quick educating…

The Christmas pickle tradition is said to be a German-based practice in which families will hide a Christmas pickle ornament inside of their tree after all the children have gone to bed. The next day whoever finds the pickle ornament will receive one special gift from St. Nicholas and be blessed with good luck for the entire year.

Christmas Pickle ornament

It’s a cute tradition that many American households have adopted, but did you know that Germans have never even heard of this?

Over 2,000 of them were asked if they had ever encountered a Christmas pickle ornament before and 91% of them said no.

So what is the Christmas pickle tradition and where did it come from in the first place?

We did some salty searching and found out that it’s quite the story. Check it out! 

The 3 Christmas pickle theories

Sliced pickle assortment

The Innkeeper Theory

The Innkeeper theory goes a little something like this: Legend says that during medieval times two Spanish boys were on their way home to celebrate Christmas when they stopped at an inn for the night.

After arriving at the inn, a malicious innkeeper trapped the boys inside a pickle barrel leaving them for dead. That was until St. Nicholas came upon them, tapped the barrel, and released them to freedom. From there, the boys went home to their families with the story and the pickle tradition was born.

Unfortunately, this story cannot be corroborated by anyone and there are no written accounts of the boys interacting with an innkeeper let alone St. Nicholas himself.

So we move on to theory number two…

Civil War soldiers

Source: National Park Serice

John Lower Theory

The second pickle theory comes from an American man named John Lower. John Lower was the son of a Bavarian immigrant born in 1852 in Pennsylvania. After joining the 103rd Pennsylvania Infantry during the Civil War, he was captured by enemy forces in Andersonville, Georgia where he was held prisoner.

Upon falling deathly ill around Christmas time, Lower asked the guard of the encampment to spare him one pickle—that’s right one pickle. This one pickle would prove to be the medicine Lower needed to not only survive through the winter but eventually escape the grasp of enemy forces and return home. (We are not sure how this is humanly possible considering a pickle is only 7 calories)

After arriving back in Pennsylvania, Lower decided that it was time to start a new Christmas tradition—one that would bring favor and good luck to his family. So he started placing a single pickle on the Christmas tree and whoever found it would be the recipient of said good fortune.

From there, the tradition was handed down for generations in the Lower family, which would go on to become widely popular in midwest states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and more.

Here’s the problem with this theory—Lower was released before the end of the Civil War which wrapped up in 1865. It was until 1880 that glass ornaments had become popularized in the United States, making it unlikely that Lower and or those connected to him would have had access to glass pickle ornaments during this time.

There are rumors that Lower’s father was around German glass blowers long before they started making Christmas pickle ornaments, and possibly got his hands on a few pieces.

But when you really consider the chances of him getting a pickle ornament at that time, bringing it home to his children, handing it down to them, only for his son to return from war and use the pickle as a good luck ornament on his own tree, it’s tough to imagine it happening.

This leads us to theory three… 

German Christmas Ornament Market

Source: wanderingermany.com

Genius German Marketing Theory

The third and final pickle ornament theory comes from the glassblowers of Germany. Since 1597, the small town of Lauscha has been known for its immaculate glassblowing. Whether it was glass cups, bowls, or containers, this region of Germany (called Thüringen) was the go-to producer of all things blown glass.

Now it’s believed that in the mid-1800s, somewhere around 1847, these German glass blowers started making ornaments shaped like fruits, vegetables, and nuts to commemorate some of the food eaten during the holidays.

From there, these ornaments were distributed across different parts of Germany and Europe and sold as traditional Christmas decorations, without any connection to a particular tradition or practice.

In 1880, F.W. Woolworth Company—a popular spot for Christmas decor—started selling these German-made ornaments in their stores across the United States. They were an immediate hit with midwest families who not only farmed for a living but also were fond of the foodie ornaments.

Once these pickles infiltrated the ecosystem of the U.S. market, there was no stopping this salty snack from becoming a Christmas classic that would be handed down for decades to come.

This is where you can imagine a lot of crossover between John Lower’s story and the sale of German food ornaments in the midwest, especially the pickle.

If in fact Lower’s story was handed down to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, it’s possible that the spread of this practice combined with the influx of pickle ornaments hitting the national market created a wave of new Christmas tradition that was adopted by midwesterners and continued to this day. 

Christmas Pickle ornament on tree

Why do people in the midwest love Christmas pickle ornaments?

Just to give you a grasp on how popular this tradition is in the midwest United States, there’s actually a town in Michigan called Berrien Springs that prides itself on being the “Christmas Pickle Capital of the World”.

Here, they celebrate this tangy tradition by hosting an annual Christmas Pickle Festival filled with tons of local pickle vendors, a pickle recipe contest, pickle flinging, and even a pickle decorating competition.

(Yes, we want to know what a pickle decorating competition looks like.)

So where can you find these Christmas pickle ornaments?

In case you were wondering, the Christmas pickle ornament is still going strong in the modern era. Ask almost any American family if they’ve heard of the Christmas pickle and chances are they or a friend has one on their tree during the holidays.

That being said, you can find Christmas pickle ornaments almost anywhere these days including popular shopping sites (aka Amazon).

But since we're a fan of supporting small businesses, here are three places where you can grab a Christmas pickle for your tree: 

And if you already have your hands on a few Christmas pickle ornaments, we’ve got a new holiday tradition you might want to start this year: stuff the stockings with pickles! 

No, we’re not talking about real pickles here, we’re talking about Sour Pickle Pops. These things pack all that classic dill flavor into a candy pop that sends your taste buds into another dimension.

Grab a few for yourself by tapping right here!

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