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The Mistaken German Pickle Tradition

Updated on August 6, 2013

It's not actually German??!!!!

One year, my parents received a pickle ornament for their tree. They were very confused when the person brightly informed them, "it's a German tradition." According to the tradition, the first child to find it on Christmas morning receives an extra present. My mother always sighs and shakes her head when people mention this. Not only is she from Germany but our family heritage consists of Germans marrying Germans marrying more Germans. So when it comes to Christmas, we celebrate with traditional German cookies, German ornaments, German pyramids, and German smokers. Of course we have taken out several traditions..like using candles on the tree (fire hazard) or my mom spending half a week painstakingly hanging tinsel (it contains lead and we like our dog very much alive).

For people so German-orientated, you would think we would be all over the pickle tradition. Unfortunately, hanging a pickle ornament is not a German tradition. Americans like to think it is and advertise it as such. When questioned about the pickle tradition, my family in Germany just gives a blank look. "What are you talking about?" (except said in German). This year my mother visited the Christkindlmarket in Chicago. She was amazed to see them selling pickle ornaments advertised as being German. Clearly, they had been sadly misinformed.

Since I have popped the sugar-plum sweet pickle dream, I will try to remedy the situation with a few other German traditions to replace it. These traditions are followed in my family every Christmas. From our German decorations (bought in Germany and then flown back home) to my mother's traditional holiday cooking. So please, choose a new and accurate German tradition and have a Merry Christmas!

Picture From: http://www.german-way.com/christmas-pickle-ornamen...

The Detailed Pickle Story

(and some clear untruths)

The "German Pickle Tale":

On Christmas Eve night, parents would hide a pickle deep within the branches of the family's Christmas tree to make it difficult to find. On Christmas morning, the most observant child would be the first to find it. For a reward, they would be given an extra gift from St. Nicholas. The first adult to find the pickle would traditionally receive good luck throughout the whole next year.

Sadly, the person who created the tale was a little misinformed about the customs involving a German Christmas. St. Nicholas does not come on Christmas Eve. He comes on December 6th to leave small gifts, or in my case, a new set of kitchen pans. Also, German children traditionally do not open gifts on Christmas morning. We do not have the long night of waiting and get to open on Christmas Eve. Next time someone decides to create a new country tradition, they might want to consider looking up a little of the country's customs. Still, it definitely managed to fool a lot of people.

The Pickle Ornament

As of right now, my parents probably have three pickles on their tree. Just because they are not a German tradition, does not mean they do not make a great glass addition. If you would like a pickle of your own, check out some ebay options. By the way, I am letting ebay pick so ignore if it advertises it as a German tradition. We all know it is not.

Christmas Lebkuchen

Every year my mother makes Lebkuchen. She uses aniseed, coriander, cloves, ginger, cardamom, allspice, and a variety of nuts and other goodies. Instead of making them as cookies, she bakes them as you would brownies and covers them in a layer of chocolate. When we were little, she would have to hide them to keep us from eating all the lebkuchen before Christmas came.

Wicklein Music Tin Elisen with 2 Sorts of Lebkuchen
Wicklein Music Tin Elisen with 2 Sorts of Lebkuchen

Most lebkuchen you buy comes in a round type of cookie shape and some have thin wafers on the bottom. Lebkuchen is a delight because its combination of so many ingredients means it can be spicy or sweet and still be mouth-watering. Lebkuchen makes a great gift as many are packaged in uniquely decorated or shaped tins.

 

German Christmas Pyramid

The tradition of the Christmas pyramid is long one, and began in the 16th century. Miners created the early pyramids by putting wood sticks together with hand-carved wooden figures and it was called Lichtergestel (light rack). Later, a wood staff was placed in the middle and a propeller attached. The heat from the candles would cause the propeller to move and the figurines to turn. Today's pyramids range from simple to complex and enormous (I saw one which went from floor to ceiling in the famous Christmas store).

German christmas pyramid Christmas story, 4-tier, height 65 cm / 26 inch, natural, original Erzgebirge by Mueller Seiffen
German christmas pyramid Christmas story, 4-tier, height 65 cm / 26 inch, natural, original Erzgebirge by Mueller Seiffen

I love our German Pyramids. They are one of the best of our Christmas traditions. Everyone in our family has their own with my mother owning multiple-tiered pyramids. The candle heat does really make it spin and the figurines do go round and round. Each figurine is hand-carved (if you purchase from a true German brand) and so are not cheap. They are well worth the money. Erzgebirge is a German brand which I fully recommend as it is guaranteed 100% handmade and 100% German quality.

 

Steinbach Smoker's

One of my family's German traditions is decorating with incense smoker figures. They are actually an old tradition with the first smoker developed about 1850 in Heidelberg (a city overwhelmingly touristy). Smoking was immensely popular at the time and it was the inspiration behind toy makers creating incense smokers. We mainly use ours during Christmas parties where they can be enjoyed by the most people. I always loved seeing the smoke coming from the mouths of the figures and the scent of incense reminded me of Christmas.

Steinbach is not really my favorite brand for German traditional decorations but it is one known by many Americans. The main part about being anything German is making sure it has the proper identification markings or comes from a trusted brand. You do not want to type in German smokers on ebay and wind up paying a "good" price for a total knockoff.

My Mother's Christmas Stollen

Every year my mother, and now older sister, make Christmas stollen. I read stollen is described as a bread-like fruitcake. What a horrible sounding food! Stollen is more like a moist heavy bread with bits of fruit, spices, and sugar or icing on top. My mother makes hers with citronat (candied citrus peel), candied orange peel, almonds, and raisins with dashes of spices like cardamom and cinnamon. On top is a layer of hardened powered sugar which crumbles as you eat it.

Stollen is a lot of work to make from scratch and she does not make more than ten or so loaves. Half of these are sent out to friends and family who adore her stollen. Since my family adores Christmas stollen, sometimes we purchase it from Aldi (which originated in Germany and has many German products.) My mother makes her stollen without marzipan but it tastes delicious with it.

German Candle Arch

The first candle arch was formed from wrought iron in 1726. The traditional miners would hang their burning pit lamps semicurcularly on their pit's entry hole before heading down to their last shift before Christmas. When miners were at work, they would see very little to no daylight. The candle arch is an expression of the longing they felt for the light.

German Wooden Figurines

One part of our German Christmas tradition is having little wooden figurines. My mother has a choir of all angels playing different instruments and Noah's ark with his animals (Noah and Mrs. Noah have disappeared recently). I own a very expensive music box of the Christmas carolers and my sister has a set of carolers as well. They are pretty but also pricey. I discovered this when I purchased an angel figurine holding a toy horse from the Christkindl market last year. Still, some of the figurines have even been handed down to my mother and one day she will hand them down to us. They are something to be bought and enjoyed for years to come.

A question of tradition

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