The Christmas pickle

The song for today: “Good King Sauerkraut look out / On his feets uneven / Beware the snoo lay ’round about / All kerchoo achievin’…” (discussion here).

There seems to be no end to the blizzard of holiday material that comes my way. Recently: the Christmas game of Hide the Pickle or Find the Pickle, which I don’t recall having heard about until about two days ago, when the topic popped up on Facebook. At the center is a Christmas tree ornament like this one:

(#1)

Of course there turns out to be a Wikipedia page, where we learn that:

The Christmas pickle is a Christmas tradition in the United States. A decoration in the shape of a pickle is hidden on a Christmas tree, with the finder receiving either a reward or good fortune for the following year. There are a number of different origin stories attributed to the tradition, including an origination in Germany. This theory has since been discounted, and it is now thought to be an American tradition created in the late 19th century.

Traditionally, an ornamental pickle is placed on a Christmas tree as one of the Christmas decorations. On Christmas morning, the first child to find the pickle on the tree would receive an extra present from Santa Claus or would be said to have a year of good fortune.

Berrien Springs, Michigan was known as the Christmas pickle capital of the world. A pickle parade was held from 1992 until about 2003. The village is in the area of Michigan known for cucumber production.

This tradition is commonly believed by Americans to come from Germany and be referred to as a Weihnachtsgurke, but this is probably apocryphal. In fact, the tradition is completely unknown in Germany. It has been suggested that the origin of the Christmas pickle may have been developed for marketing purposes in the 1890s to coincide with the importation of glass Christmas tree decorations from Germany. Woolworths was the first company to import these types of decorations into the United States in 1890, and glass blown decorative vegetables were imported from France from 1892 onwards. Despite the evidence showing that the tradition did not originate in Germany, the concept of Christmas pickles has since been imported from the United States and they are now on sale in the country traditionally associated with it.

Beliefs about the origins of items of culture can arise from common-sense reasoning (pickles are characteristic German items of food, so a custom involving them must have come from German) or from inventive story-spinning (just for fun, or to bolster group pride, or to promote some product). Such beliefs can spread rapidly if they jibe with other beliefs or if the stories are otherwise attractive (by being rich in detail, in particular).

In any case, the tale of the Christmas pickle seems to be quite popular. Pickles as phallic symbols aren’t directly involved, though that feature might have contributed a bit to the attractions of the story. And we now have jaunty anthropomorphic images of the Christmas pickle, like this one:

(#2)

Two relevant postings on this blog, both from 8/24/13:

“Men and their pickles” (here):

As phallic symbols, pickles are of course almost automatically risible. Some pickle play from “The Further Adventures of Nick Danger, Third Eye” (from Firesign Theatre’s How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All (1969)), appreciated on this blog here: [quotes from the Nick Danger routine follow]

“pickles” (here): on cucumbers, pickled cucumbers, and other pickles; and on cucumbers and (cucumber) pickles as phallic symbols

2 Responses to “The Christmas pickle”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    And of course there’s the famous (possibly apocryphal?) Mae West line: “Is that a pickle in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me>”

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