Discovering The Fascinating History Of The Christmas Pickle Tradition

A Christmas Pickle? I have been witness to some fascinating Xmas traditions over the years. For instance, the Ugly Christmas Sweater but was intrigued upon learning of this hide-the-pickle tradition. Some traditions are born by accident, whereas others result from a prank.

For instance, shortly after Y2K, I provided computer technical support at Canadian Forces Base Suffield for an oil and gas company. While travelling between offices on the range, I came across a “Christmas tree road.” As the story goes, decades prior, a military trainee discarded their old Christmas tree by inserting it into the metal tube of a traffic stop sign. Over time, the tree lost its pine needles, and all that remained was the dead trunk and branches. In what most likely began as a hilarious prank, the Christmas tree became a landmark.

As far as I know, the Christmas tree road remains at CFB Suffield today. So I wondered what other strange Xmas traditions existed when I stumbled across the Christmas Pickle.

Christmas Pickle – Origin

People began to place pickles in their Christmas trees during the late 1880s as a contest or game. The idea was that whoever found the hidden green pickle ornament, camouflaged within the green needles of a Christmas tree, deserved a little extra gift. Of course, as the pickle-finder, adults might be blessed with a year of fortune, or children may receive an extra present on Christmas morning.

There tends to be no agreement on when and how the Christmas Pickle tradition started other than “the 1880s.” My research pointed me to a tradition of German origin. However, if you ask someone from Germany, they will most likely be unaware of this Christmas Pickle tradition, lending credence that this may be nothing more than a myth. My research pressed on to find out more about this pickle ornament tradition.

F.W. Woolworth Co 5 and 10 cent store. The birthplace of the Christmas Pickle.

In the 1880s Woolworth’s stores began importing hand-blown glass Xmas ornaments from Germany. The imported glass ornaments were sold to American consumers and were shaped like fruits and vegetables. Although not independently confirmed, it’s assumed that pickles didn’t sell as well as the other decorations because their colour is the same as that of an evergreen Christmas tree.

So upper management at Woolworths found themselves looking at a tremendous amount of unsold glass pickles ornaments. It was obvious to them what they had to do. They needed to convince American consumers that hanging Christmas pickles from their trees was trendy.

Tradition is Born

Someone with a genius marketing mind and indifference towards the truth made up a story to go along with the pickles: Noticing the country of origin, a fable was born where it became an age-old German custom to hide a pickle in the tree for one lucky family member to find. Woolworths attached to the pickles a card explaining the “ancient German tradition,” and the legend was born.

Perhaps it was a whimsical notion or our simple and ever-present desire/greed to want a chance at just one more present. The pickles began to sell, and when next Christmas rolled around, there was a demand, so they brought in more.

Today, some German-Americans are a bit disillusioned to hear that their ancient homeland tradition is a marketing scheme invented by the 1880s pickle ornament surplus. In any event, most people agree that this is not a tradition ever practiced in Germany. It exists only in North America and is credited as a German tradition.

Did I miss anything?

Now I’d like to hear from you! Do you hang a Christmas pickle on your tree for a different reason? Do you know of any other peculiar Xmas customs?

Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below right now.


  • Rusty Griswold

    Since 2015, I have been building my light display to celebrate the holiday season and experimenting with various recipes to bring people together around the table. I have learned many do's and don'ts in both areas along the way, and share them with everyone via the website.

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