According to legend, in Germany parents decorate their Tannenbaums on Christmas Eve. The last hanging ornament is die Weinachtsgurke, a delicate glass ornament in the shape of a gherkin. This is a significant ornament, as the children will be rushing to open their St. Nicholas gifts the next morning. But the festivities can’t begin until one of the kids locates the elusive pickle. The finder can open the first gift and may even receive an additional gift for his efforts. So the story is told here in America. Glass Christmas pickles are a popular decoration and often come with the funny legend embedded or printed on the box.
The most curious thing about this legend is that it is practically unknown in Germany. No one knows where it came from, or who started it. Well known is the fact that decorating Christmas trees with lights, ornaments and tinsel originated in Germany, but unless the Pickle Tradition was practiced in a remote region of the homeland, the legend is likely to have been created. , at least in part, by Americans, perhaps of German descent. There are various stories floating around as to how the tradition may have started.
A rumor tells of a Bavarian-born Union soldier who fought in the Civil War named John Lower (or perhaps Hans Lauer) who was captured and sent to prison in Georgia. In poor health and starving, the prisoner asked for only one pickle before he died. A merciful guard took pity and found him a pickle. Miraculously, John survived, and after returning home, he began the tradition of the Christmas pickle, promising good fortune to whoever found the special ornament on Christmas Day.
If this story seems a bit far-fetched, there is a second story perpetuated in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where 24% of the population reports German ancestry. Neighbors claim that hundreds of years ago two young Spaniards, returning home from boarding school on Christmas Eve, sought refuge for the night in an inn. Here they encountered a cantankerous innkeeper who trapped them in a brine barrel. When St. Nicholas stopped at the inn that night, he sensed his anguish and struck the barrel with his staff, magically releasing them. Whether this story is true or not, Berrien Springs calls itself the Christmas Pickle Capital of the World.
The first ornaments used by the Germans to decorate Christmas trees were fruits, particularly apples and nuts. These, along with the evergreen tree itself, represented the certainty that life would return in the spring. In the middle of the 18th century, some enterprising people living in the village of Lauscha (in today’s state of Thuringen) began to sell glass ornaments. Using fruit and nut molds at first, they eventually branched out, adding thousands of molds to their repertoire: angels, bells, saints, hearts, stars, etc. Still, there is no evidence that they ever made a pickle, or that the pickle tradition was ever practiced in Lauscha or any other German town.
Regardless of the origin of the legend, the tradition of Christmas pickles is here to stay. Several German makers of glass ornaments have cashed in on the story and offer a variety of gherkins, dill and cucumbers (some even give out jolly Santa hats!), perpetuating the myth even as their German neighbors vehemently deny having ever heard of it. of the. Whatever the origin, the tradition is sure to bring a hearty dose of holiday cheer. And isn’t that the point?