I am amazed by how many people don’t have a pickle hanging on their Christmas tree. Of all of the wacky traditions out there, like hanging a parasitic plant in your house and kissing anyone who is underneath it, dangling a dill from the branch of an evergreen tree that you chopped down to put in your living room doesn’t seem so strange.
Truthfully, I haven’t always done the Christmas pickle thing. In my family growing up, it was a spider that was hidden in the tree. Whoever found the spider got to open the first present. (Being an only child, I had a 100% success rate at this game.) It wasn’t until I was older that my high school German teacher gifted me a tiny glass pickle. I’ve never had a pickle-less tree since.
The origin of this holiday custom is steeped in mystery. No one quite knows why anyone started hiding pickles. Some think it’s a German tradition, others do not. There’s one school of thought that thinks there was an ornament salesman at some point in time that had an excess of them and dreamed up the idea. Other folklore includes stories of a Civil War soldier who was a prisoner and begged for one last pickle before he died. The pickle apparently gave him the strength to live, and he did. Another rather morbid tale is about two boys that traveled home from school and stopped at an inn. The evil innkeeper killed the boys and put them in a pickle barrel. Later that night, St. Nicholas stopped by, found the boys, and miraculously brought them back to life.
It may surprise you to learn that Berrien Springs, Michigan, calls itself the Christmas Pickle Capital of the World. In early December there is a festival and a parade led by a Grand Dillmeister (I am not making this up) who passes out fresh pickles to visitors. They have even expanded to a second Pickle Festival in the summer, which includes such fun as a dunk tank, a midway, and a pickle fling where people can try to beat the record held by a Mr. Rago that stands at 292 feet, according to a news article from July, 2000. I can only wonder if that astonishing feat has been accomplished in the last 15 years…
So whether it was two boys in a barrel, a dying solider, or a salesman wanting to survive at his job, apparently the legend of the pickle is one of existence and life. If it’s celebrated by marching in a parade or flinging a pickle, or by simply hiding one in the boughs of our Christmas trees, I think is a pickle is a dill-lightful way to make anyone’s holiday a little happier.
So get yourself a glass pickle if you don’t have one. I dare say you will “relish” it for years to come.
Originally written 12.20.15