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.

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]

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Cyber Monday has arrived, and with it comes some amazing deals. This sale is the one to watch if you are looking to get low prices on the latest Echo Dot, Fire Tablet, video games, Instant Pots, or 4K TVs. Even if you already took advantage of sales during Black Friday or Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday still has plenty to offer, especially on Amazon. We've compiled some the best deals out there on tech, computers, and kitchen appliances so you don't have to waste your time browsing.

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home and Kitchen

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How Zoom Santas Are Connecting With Kids Virtually in 2020

Tim Mossholder, Unsplash
Tim Mossholder, Unsplash

In his 21 years as a professional Santa, Mr. Kringle of Mr. Kringle & Company has dealt with every type of temperament and gift request from his young clientele. But 2020 presented him with a new challenge: How was he supposed to connect with kids when he couldn’t be near them? As was the case with so many issues this year, the internet was the answer.

“It’s not the real in-person visit, but it’s still a personal visit,” Mr. Kringle told Mental Floss. “And kids already understand what’s happening on Zoom. They’re already Zooming their classrooms to some degree and have been doing it for a few months now, so they understand it, and they understand the dynamic.”

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Kringle is one of many Santas offering virtual meet-and-greets this holiday season. For $48 to $58, families can sign up to have a personal streaming session with Santa Claus from the comfort and safety of their own homes. Prerecorded messages from Father Christmas himself are also available for $28.

Meetings kicked off on November 21, and Mr. Kringle has already seen an incredible response. “We’re having an international reach," he says. "A lot of people are reaching out to us from Canada. We heard of an inquiry from India today. People are looking to engage with Mr. Kringle, and given this technology, it can happen any time and any place.”

Even Santas who have experience connecting with kids virtually anticipate a very different holiday season in 2020. The Cameo Santa has been a professional Santa for decades and on Cameo for the last three years. He tells Mental Floss that this season he’s expecting to get five times the amount of requests he got this same time last year.

“In my 26 years of being a professional Santa, probably the most parties I have had in one day was five,” the Cameo Santa says. “Being the Cameo Santa has given me the opportunity to touch many more lives and spread way more Christmas spirit than I ever could’ve dreamed was possible.” In addition to recording personalized Cameos for $65, he’s also available for Zoom meetings.

Santas are employing some creative strategies this year in an effort to keep everyone healthy. At the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, kids are forbidden from sitting on Santa’s lap, and they can only interact with him from a distance. At Aalborg Zoo in Denmark, Santa is ensconced in a snow globe.

Still, a virtual meeting is the safest option for families hoping to see Santa this year, and beyond the health aspect, it comes with some surprising benefits.

The Cameo Santa recalls a review he received from one mother describing the immediate impact of his video message. “I started mentioning the things the children needed to work on to stay on the nice list, and that was to start keeping their room clean," he says. "So that was the first thing I mentioned in my mild but firm suggestions [of] what to do. She said she could not stop laughing, because right there in the middle of the Cameo, both boys jumped up and ran to their rooms and started cleaning the room up! Talk about impact. Ho ho ho!”

For Mr. Kringle of Mr. Kringle & Company, the biggest upside to meeting children through Zoom is the opportunity to continue a tradition in a year when so much has been put on hold. He says, “I would hate to think you’ve got a 7-, 8-, 9-year-old who's on the brink—you know what I mean?—and the year goes by with no visit from Santa. That they can still have this will maybe keep them believing one more year.”