Beyond History Blog

The Christmas pickle – a German Christmas tradition largely unknown in Germany

Andrea Bentschneider - 27. December 2015 - General, German-American, Old Customs, Traditions

A German and not-so-German Christmas tradition at the same time. 

A few years ago we received a “Happy New Year” card from a client, she told us she had spent Christmas and New Years Eve with her children and her grandchildren. They were delighted by the German Christmas Tree and this year it was Peter who was the first to discover the pickle. Pardon me? A pickle in the Christmas tree?

At first we thought this was a typo as even during living for 10 years in New York, I never came across a pickle in a Christmas tree. So we went back to that client and asked her about this. She instantly and told us that even her grandparents had followed this German tradition of having a Christmas pickle in the Christmas tree.

German tradition? We had to look into this some more: 

There are several theories about the origin of the pickle to be found. There is no 100 % certainty if it is indeed an actual tradition from Germany or just a myth, maybe even a marketing strategy of the glass Christmas tree decoration industry.

One theory: There was a German named Hans Lauer or John Lower, who was born in Bavaria in 1842 and emigrated to the USA. A descendant of John Lower wrote down a story about a pickle: “John Lower was captured during the war and was arrested in Andersonville, Georgia. Because of the bad state of his health and the fact that he was very hungry, he asked the warden to get him a pickle before he would die. The warden felt sorry for John and brought him a pickle. The family legend tells the story of John believing the pickle was what gave him strength to survive. After being reunited with his family he started a tradition of hiding a pickle inside the Christmas tree. The first person to find the pickle on Christmas Day should be rewarded with luck for the coming year.

Another theory: Since the mid 19th century pickles were cultivated in big numbers in the Spreewald near Berlin. The region’s wealth was increasing. One of the most traditional glass blowing workshops was located in Lauscha, Thuringia. The small village has been known for its glassblowing since 1597. In 1847 the first fruits and nuts made of glass were produced there. This is also the origin of traditional Christmas tree balls. As a marketing gag the pickle became a part of their production line, the aim was to sell the glass pickle as an item of “old tradition” in the New World.

We are looking forward to hear from you if you are hiding a pickle in your Christmas tree as well and/or if there are other special Christmas tradition in your family.


Merry Christmas and a happy, joyous New Year!

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