My friends have expressed some dubiousness (and a great deal of mirth) upon my recounting the German tradition of the Christmas pickle (the “Weihnachtsgurke”). (And yes, this is related to the English word “gherkin“– tho’ the etymologic descent is actually from the Dutch “gurk,” cucumber.)
For those unaware of this hallowed and noble custom, it’s pretty simple: there’s a glass Christmas ornament in the shape of a pickle that’s hung somewhere (usually in a hard-to-find place near the trunk, or in the back, or near the top, or all three) on the family Christmas tree. The first person to find it once the tree has been fully dressed is blessed with good luck for the coming year. (The first child to find it is supposed to get an extra Christmas treat, but sometimes it’s hard to prove that you REALLY saw it first.)
There’s actually a great deal of debate as to whether this is a genuine German custom. For the record, the branch of my Old World family we’ve remained in closest contact with hails from Bavaria, which would seem to support the story of where this custom *may* have originated. However, all our heirloom ornaments are from the other side of the family… my mother’s mother’s sister’s husband (that would be my maternal great-uncle-in-law, for those keeping track) worked in a town in what became East Germany that was renowned for their glass ornaments. Every year, he’d send boxes of new ornaments to the extended family, all hand-painted in silver (bright colors weren’t the fashion at that time, particularly). And every year, the ornaments would get put to the curb with the tree when the season was over. I weep to think on it… today, we cherish the few ornaments we have left from him, but back in the day they were so commonplace that they were treated with all the care of the weekly newspaper.
On the third hand (getting back to the possible origins of the story), our pickle is definitely not one of those heirlooms. In fact, I think the current pickle is a replacement for one that was broken. So, we’ve had *a* pickle for awhile, but I’m almost certain it doesn’t go back two generations. (No, I’ve never thought to ask my German cousins if they hide a pickle on their tree.) All I know is that my family’s done it for a good while, and it’s silly and fun, and that’s enough for me.
And if you require proof….
The Christmas Pickle, 2008: