The Curious Tradition of Hanging a Christmas Pickle Ornament on Trees

Tricia, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Tricia, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Every family has its own holiday traditions. Maybe they open Christmas presents after dinner. Perhaps they hang stockings up for their pet. Some might display homemade decorations.

Others might hide a Christmas pickle ornament in their tree, as simplemost highlights.

This tradition, which allegedly has roots in Germany, has been adopted by a growing number of American households in the Midwest and elsewhere. Usually, the glossy green ornament in the shape and texture of a pickle is hung somewhere deep in the tree. The first child to find the pickle on Christmas morning is the recipient of good luck in the coming year and a special gift. (The other children are presumably fresh out of luck.)

Many of these families are under the impression that the Christmas pickle, or Weihnachtsgurke, was brought over to the United States by German immigrants. It’s been said the poverty-stricken people of 19th-century Spreewald, too poor to have actual ornaments, hung pickles instead.

While all of this makes some sense—or as much sense as a brined holiday ornament is ever going to make—the reality is that the vast majority of Germans have never heard of this tradition. In 2016, after word of Americans hanging pickles was picked up by German newspapers, a survey found that 91 percent of German households had no idea about Christmas pickles or what they were intended to represent.

A Christmas pickle hangs from a Christmas tree
Dean Johnson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It turns out that clever marketing may be behind it. When retail giant Woolworths began importing German ornaments in the 1890s, they noted that some were in the shape of a pickle and began ascribing a deeper meaning behind it. This was no ordinary ornament—it was a pickle steeped in the customs of an exotic land.

Much later, in the 1990s, ornament artisans began relating the apocryphal story of the pickle, saying its green color blended with the tree and that a child would be rewarded for their “keen observation” in finding it.

Another, far more disturbing folk origin involves an evil shopkeeper in Myra, a town that hosted the benevolent St. Nicholas in the Middle Ages. As the story goes, the shopkeeper enjoyed dismembering children and stuffing them into pickle barrels. St. Nicholas prayed, and the mutilated children emerged from their briny fates alive and well.

Whether it had origins in Spreewald or gruesome fantasies, it seems Americans embraced the tale. One prominent German ornament manufacturer, Lauscha Glass Center, started making the ornaments in the mid-1990s—but only after one of their employees visited Michigan and saw the Christmas pickle adorning trees there. So if you’re looking to do something different this season, consider the pickle. It’s either a German tradition hardly any German has heard of, or the result of pickled child mutilation. Happy holidays.

[h/t simplemost]

Run! IHOP Is Giving Away Free Pancakes for National Pancake Day

What better way to celebrate National Pancake Day than with a free stack of IHOP's signature buttermilk pancakes?
What better way to celebrate National Pancake Day than with a free stack of IHOP's signature buttermilk pancakes?
StephanieFrey/iStock via Getty Images

If ever there were a day to forgo that container of leftovers in the fridge and treat yourself to breakfast for dinner, it’s today: IHOP is celebrating National Pancake Day by giving each customer a free short stack of buttermilk pancakes. The dine-in deal is available at participating locations from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.—but the hours can vary, so you might want to confirm with your local IHOP before heading there.

While a pile of hot, syrup-soaked pancakes is definitely a good enough incentive to visit IHOP immediately, it’s not the only one. IHOP is also hosting a sweepstakes that offers thousands of instant-win prizes across all locations, and you can only enter by scanning the QR code on your table at IHOP. One lucky carb-loader will win the grand prize—pancakes for life—and other rewards include everything from $500 IHOP gift cards to IHOP merchandise like blankets, watches, duffel bags, customizable jackets, and even bikes.

The pan-tastic event is all in the spirit of charity, and IHOP is hoping to raise more than $4 million for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, Shriners Hospitals for Children, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society—you can donate online here. According to a press release, IHOP has contributed more than $30 million to its charity partners since beginning its National Pancake Day celebrations in 2006.

“IHOP launched its National Pancake Day event 15 years ago as a way to celebrate the best food ever—pancakes—and put a purpose behind the day by partnering with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and other charities to help kids in our communities,” Stephanie Peterson, IHOP’s executive director of communications, said in the release.

If you can’t make it to IHOP to claim your free short stack today, you can always celebrate National Pancake Day with a tall stack of homemade pancakes—find out how to make them extra fluffy here.

Why Do People Toss Beads During Mardi Gras?

Kameleon007/iStock via Getty Images
Kameleon007/iStock via Getty Images

Each year, more than 1 million people descend on New Orleans for Mardi Gras, an organized parade of debauchery and alcohol-induced torpor that may be the closest thing modern civilization has to the excesses of ancient Rome. Saturating the scene on Bourbon Street are plastic beads, handed or tossed to partygoers as a kind of currency. Some bare their breasts or offer booze in exchange for the tokens; others catch them in the air and wear the layers around their necks. Roughly 25 million pounds of beads are in circulation annually, making them as much a part of the Fat Tuesday celebration as sugary cocktails and King Cake.

Traditions and rituals can be hard to pin down, but Mardi Gras historians believe the idea of distributing trinkets began in the 1870s or 1880s, several hundred years after French settlers introduced the celebration to Louisiana in the 1600s. Party organizers—known locally as krewes—handed out baubles and other shiny objects to revelers to help commemorate the occasion. Some of them threw chocolate-covered almonds. They were joined by more mischievous attendees, who threw dirt or flour on people in an effort to stir up a little bit of trouble.

Why beads? Tiny tokens that represent wealth, health, and other prosperity have been a part of human history for centuries. In Egypt, tokens were handed out in the hopes they would guarantee a happy afterlife; the abacus, or bead-based system of accounting, used trinkets to perform calculations; pagan pre-winter rituals had people throwing grains into fields hoping to appease gods that would nourish their crops.

Humans, argues archaeologist Laurie Wilkie, display "bead lust," or a penchant for shiny objects. It's one possible reason why Mardi Gras attracts so many people with their arms in the air, elated to receive a gift of cheap plastic.

Photo of a well-dressed bulldog celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Mario Tama, Getty Images

The early beads were made of glass before more efficient production methods overseas led to an influx of plastic beads in the 1960s. Unlike some of the more organic predecessors, these beads have come under criticism for being a source of health problems and pollution. Made from petroleum, they often harbor lead that seeps into the soil and rubs off on hands. (One estimate puts the lead deposit after a Mardi Gras celebration at 4000 pounds.) In 2017, New Orleans paid $7 million in clean-up costs to remove discarded beads from drain basins. In 2018, they installed gutter guards to prevent the necklaces from getting into the system in the first place. Meanwhile, scientists have been working to create an even more eco-friendly version of the beads—like a biodegradable version made from microalgae.

Environmental hazards aside, the beads of Mardi Gras have become as much a holiday staple as Christmas stockings or Thanksgiving turkeys. But the passion and desperate need for them is only temporary; in 2018, 46 tons of the beads were removed from just five blocks of the main parade route on Charles Street. And no bacchanal should leave that much bad juju behind.

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