Etsy Journal

Explore ideas and inspiration for creative living

The Mystery of the Christmas Pickle

by Jeni Sandberg

Dec 24, 2013

The tradition of hanging a pickle ornament on the Christmas tree has mysterious origins.

It’s a strange juxtaposition: an ornament in the shape of a pickle hanging in your festively decorated Christmas tree. The Christmas pickle is a beloved holiday tradition for some, but one with very murky origins. Though the details can vary, the basic premise is this: the Christmas tree is decorated and, while the children sleep on Christmas Eve, a parent hangs a pickle ornament somewhere within the branches of the tree. Because the green pickle is hidden amongst the green boughs, it is difficult to see, and the first to find the special ornament on Christmas morning would get an extra present, or be blessed with good luck all year. This tradition is often said to have origins in 19th-century Germany. Though there is a long history of blown-glass ornaments made there, a quick survey of my German friends found that none had ever heard of a Weinachtsgurke. Another story about the Christmas pickle is set during the American Civil War in the notorious Andersonville prison, where a starving soldier begged for a pickle to sustain him. One of his captors miraculously procured the desired gherkin and when the war ended, the man hung a pickle ornament from his tree to commemorate his good fortune. Regardless of its origins, the tradition of the Christmas pickle adds a layer of fun to the day’s festivities. For many, no tree is complete without this tart treat!
Jeni Sandberg

Jeni Sandberg is a dealer, appraiser and consultant in 20th century design. She has worked in museums, was a Senior Specialist at Christie’s, and also appears on WGBH’s Antiques Roadshow. She writes about fun objects on her blog. In this series, she will explore the history of decorative objects.