German Christmas Pickle — The Truth Behind The Tradition
Filed in Traditions
It is well-known that we Germans helped to popularize the now-beloved symbol of Christmas, the Tannenbaum, or Christmas Tree. But there is another less-famous and somewhat misunderstood tradition of the Christmas pickle.
The legend goes that on Christmas Eve, the German custom was to place a pickle (or a pickle-shaped ornament) in the branches of the Christmas Tree. The parents “hide” the pickle after all the other ornaments have been placed and the first child who finds it is rewarded with an extra gift. If it is an adult who discovers the pickle, they are the recipient of a year’s worth of good luck.
However, the whole legend is a complete myth! If you ask any German about it, most of us have never even heard of this silly tradition! There were some West Germans during the Cold War who believed it must be the practice of East Germans, who had nothing more than pickles with which to decorate their tree. But most East Germans knew nothing more about it than the Westerners did.
So where did this odd story come from?
There are at least two popular versions of the origin of the German Christmas Pickle. Both come to us from the United States.
In the first tale, a Bavarian immigrant was fighting in the American Civil War. As a prisoner of war, he was injured and dying. He begged his guard for just one pickle before his death. The guard was sympathetic and granted the dying soldier’s request. However, this pickle apparently had miraculous restorative powers, and the Bavarian survived.
The second story originates in Berrien Springs, MI, the town which calls itself “The Christmas Pickle Capital of the World.” Their story takes place in medieval Spain.
Two young schoolboys were traveling home for the holidays and stopped at an inn for the night. The innkeeper was a cruel and evil man who imprisoned the boys in a pickle barrel. Lucky for them, St. Nicholas himself was also staying at this inn on the same night. He found the boys and freed them from their pickled prison by using his magic staff.
The town of Berrien Springs has capitalized on this unusual tradition with an annual Christmas Pickle Festival. The festival features a “Dillmeister” who distributes fresh pickles during their parade. And of course, you can buy the famous pickle ornaments all over the town.
So, while the origins of this holiday “tradition” remain clouded in mystery, you can still enjoy your German Christmas Pickles, regardless of whether they actually came from Germany! ;-)
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3 Responses to “German Christmas Pickle — The Truth Behind The Tradition”
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HI VERY INTERESTING STORY! MY 8YR SON HAS TO DO A REPORT ON CHRISTMAS IN GERMANY, ANYTHING YOU COULD HELP US WITH?
I did respond to your e-mail. Let me know if you didn’t receive it.
The Christmas season starts with Advent and a custom which dates back to pagan times, when people believed in the wheel of life, never ending and ongoing, even after death. This custom is signified by the Advent wreath, decorated with four candles, each representing one of the four Sundays in Advent. The wreath consists of pine branches and ribbons, sitting on a table, or, like in many German homes, hanging from the ceiling. The ritual connected with the wreath is the celebrating of the Pre-Christmas season every Sunday in which one candle is lit, friends and families get together, having punch and cookies and singing Christmas carols.
Christmas Eve the children of Germany expect the “Christkind” (Christ child), mostly portrayed as a little angel, together with the “Weihnachtsmann” (Santa Claus). They both come on a sleigh pulled by a white horse, or by foot through the deep forests of the country. “Die Bescherung” or gift giving usually happens on Christmas Eve in Germany. In most homes, members attend a church service called “Christmesse”, where the children of the Parish portray the Christmas story, and, when everyone is home again the “Bescherung” gets underway.
Unlike here in the USA, German children do not see the Christmas tree until holy night, when a parent or relative has put out the presents and decorated the Christmas tree, while the rest of the family is in church.
In days gone by, the tree was decorated with real candles, apples, nuts, cookies and straw ornaments, but now the trees have beautiful glass-blown ornaments, tinsel and electric candles, mostly for safety reasons. The family gathers around the Christmas tree and sings carols before the gift-giving and afterwards sits down to a festive meal on a decorated table, which varies in the different parts of Germany. Due to different family traditions this could be a meat salad with fresh hard rolls, or Bratwurst with potato salad.
A wonderful brown roasted Goose is eaten on Christmas, December 25th, with “Knödel” (dumplings) and red cabbage, and visiting family is usually done on the second day of Christmas, December 26, which is also a day off in Germany. The Christmas season is officially over January 6, the feast day of the Holy Three Kings.