Let's kick off the year with what I like to call a Christmas X-File ... intrigued? Then read on!
How many of you have this particular ornament that you hide somewhere on your tree every year? It's called the Christmas Pickle and the roots of the legend go far, far back. There are three versions of the story that are most commonly told. The first one says that the Christmas Pickle is an old German custom:
“A very old Christmas eve tradition in Germany was to hide a pickle
[ornament] deep in the branches of the family Christmas Tree. The
parents hung the pickle last after all the other ornaments were in
place. In the morning they knew the most observant child would receive
an extra gift from St. Nicholas. The first adult who finds the pickle
traditionally gets good luck for the whole year.”
Sounds great, right? Something that would have been passed down from generation to generation and is commemorated with the ornament found on all German trees now. The only flaw in that heart-warming tradition? Most German families would have absolutely NO idea what you are talking about, because there IS no such tradition!
The second version of the story is a tad stranger, but has more of a ring of authenticity to it, as it happens in a more recent time period and attributes a name to the creator of the legend. This version of the story takes place during the American Civil War and concerns a Bavarian-born captured soldier by the name of John Lower, who was being held in a prison camp in Fort Sumter in 1864. Being of poor health and starving, he begged the guard on Christmas Eve for a single pickle to eat before he died. The guard took pity on him and provided him with said pickle, which supposedly revitalized him body and spirit, enough to get him through the dark time and give him the hope to live on and recover. When the war was over and he returned home, he placed the pickle on his tree every year as a reminder of the miraculous life-saving brine-soaked cucumber.
Once again, a great, life-affirming story. And once again, there's only One Small Thing wrong with it ... there's no corroborating evidence that THIS story actually occurred.
"Three wealthy little boys were traveling through the Byzantine Empire
in Asia Minor. They came to an inn with a treacherous and avaricious
owner. In the middle of the night the innkeeper stabbed the children to
death and stole their money and clothes. Then he butchered the bodies
and put the severed pieces in salt so he could sell the children as hams
(thus simultaneously turning a profit and disposing of the corpses).
For several nights it seemed he had gotten away with his horrifying act,
but then with a crack of thunder, Saint Nicholas appeared in the inn.
The Saint summarily dispensed with the innkeeper who was heard from no
more. Hastening to the curing house, Nicholas opened up the salt casks
and tenderly reassembled the pickled pieces of the unlucky boys into
whole bodies. Lifting his arms he summoned divine power to reanimate
the murdered children and send them on their way (unscathed, I guess,
although one would imagine that being dismembered and brined would leave some post-traumatic stress)."
Which leaves us with the nagging question: what IS the actual origin of the Christmas Pickle? The most likely answer, believe it or not, may come from the old five-and-dime store, F.W. Woolworth's. According to Wikipedia:
"It has been suggested that the origin of the Christmas pickle may
have been developed for marketing purposes in the 1890s to coincide with the
importation of glass Christmas tree decorations from Germany. Woolworths was
the first company to import these types of decorations into the United States
in 1890, and glass blown decorative vegetables were imported from France from
1892 onwards. Despite the evidence showing that the tradition did not originate
in Germany, the concept of Christmas pickles has since been imported from the
United States and they are now on sale in the country traditionally associated
And that brings us to the present-day. From a non-existent German legend to an apocryphal starving soldier, and from three pickled boys to a glass ornament salesman with a penchant for storytelling, somewhere in all of this the legend of the Christmas Pickle was born. Like the best of the X-Files, the Truth Is Out There ... and like them, as well, we may never know the correct answer. If you don't like any of these tales, place one on your tree this year and invent your own! :)
Coming tomorrow: We continue our food theme, this time concentrating on a certain wee little piggie! See you then!