Why Do Some People Put Pickles On Their Christmas Trees?

If you or your loved ones celebrate Christmas, you've probably stumbled upon an odd tradition: placing a pickle in a Christmas tree. No, it's not a hipster, food-frenzy trend. It goes back decades, but its origin isn't so clear.

The Christmas pickle is considered an American tradition, though all thoughts about its origins are rumored. In America, some families hide a fake pickle ornament in their Christmas tree either the day they put up the tree or before the family opens presents. Whoever finds the pickle first is allowed to open the first gift.

Many believe the pickle tradition has German roots, but that may not be the case. The story is similar to the American trend: after decorating their Christmas trees, parents would secretly hide the pickle. Whichever child found the pickle first would receive an extra gift from Saint Nicholas, according to an alleged old German advertisement featured on Germany Way.

But when surveyed in 2016, only eight percent of German participants had ever heard of the pickle tradition. Past that, only two percent had practiced it, according to the YouGov survey mentioned by Today.

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Giant Christmas tree baubles with paintings of Berlin landmarks are on display in the Potsdamer Arkaden shopping center in Berlin on December 19, 2018. ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images

Despite the real roots of the tradition, that's the story told to participants in the tradition, and even in ornament packaging for the pickle products. German Way went so far as to debunk the classic advertisement, which says the extra gift will be from St. Nick, though St. Nick arrives on December 6 for German children. The site also clarified Christmas presents are opened on Christmas Eve in Germany, not Christmas Day as the advertisement mentioned.

A German researcher, Rita Mace Walston, wrote a guidepost for About.com about the pickle tradition and spoke candidly of her inability to locate an origin story. Her trouble is one shared by historians and professors. Through her research, though, Walston was told a story about the pickle's roots that could link it directly to America.

The story said a civil war soldier was imprisoned in Georgia when he asked for one last wish: a pickle. The soldier, who was starving and dying, was given a pickle by the prison guard who pitied him. The pickle allegedly gave the soldier the hope and strength to survive. He eventually returned home and his family began the tradition with a slight change: whoever found the pickle would be granted good luck the following year, according to German Way.