German ancestry has long been the most-claimed heritage by Americans. One fairly common Christmas tradition in the U.S. and U.K. of hiding a pickle-shaped ornament in the tree was always credited with being German. However, it is, in fact, a clever marketing ploy from the 1880s.
What’s the dill with the pickle ornament?
The tradition of parents hiding a pickle ornament somewhere on the Christmas tree and whoever finds it gets to open the first present — or have good luck for the next year — has long been thought a centuries-old German tradition, called Weihnachtsgurke.
But Germans don’t practice the tradition much, if at all. A YouGov poll that asked 2,057 Germans about the Christmas pickle, found 91 percent didn’t know what it was or the tradition behind it.
Other stories of its origin abound, like that of a Bavarian immigrant named John Lower, who it’s said became deathly ill while in prison during the Civil War. Lower’s request for his last meal before he died was a pickle. But, he ultimately survived his illness and went on to honor the pickle at Christmas by hiding it in the tree.
As with many holiday traditions in America — from Halloween to Christmas — the advent of mass marketing in the late 1800s is the likely origin.
If the Christmas pickle isn’t German, what is it?
F.W. Woolworth is purported to be the one who came up with the Christmas pickle story and game as a way to sell green German glass. The pickle ornaments would come with a card telling the tale of the German Christmas pickle tradition.
As with most holiday marketing traditions, the game of the Christmas pickle — made up or not — has brought fun, joy and a little healthy competition to children across the U.S. for generations. And there’s nothing better than that.