The Curious Tradition of Hanging a Christmas Pickle Ornament on Trees

Tricia, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Tricia, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Every family has its own holiday traditions. Maybe they open Christmas presents after dinner. Perhaps they hang stockings up for their pet. Some might display homemade decorations.

Others might hide a Christmas pickle ornament in their tree, as simplemost highlights.

This tradition, which allegedly has roots in Germany, has been adopted by a growing number of American households in the Midwest and elsewhere. Usually, the glossy green ornament in the shape and texture of a pickle is hung somewhere deep in the tree. The first child to find the pickle on Christmas morning is the recipient of good luck in the coming year and a special gift. (The other children are presumably fresh out of luck.)

Many of these families are under the impression that the Christmas pickle, or Weihnachtsgurke, was brought over to the United States by German immigrants. It’s been said the poverty-stricken people of 19th-century Spreewald, too poor to have actual ornaments, hung pickles instead.

While all of this makes some sense—or as much sense as a brined holiday ornament is ever going to make—the reality is that the vast majority of Germans have never heard of this tradition. In 2016, after word of Americans hanging pickles was picked up by German newspapers, a survey found that 91 percent of German households had no idea about Christmas pickles or what they were intended to represent.

A Christmas pickle hangs from a Christmas tree
Dean Johnson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It turns out that clever marketing may be behind it. When retail giant Woolworths began importing German ornaments in the 1890s, they noted that some were in the shape of a pickle and began ascribing a deeper meaning behind it. This was no ordinary ornament—it was a pickle steeped in the customs of an exotic land.

Much later, in the 1990s, ornament artisans began relating the apocryphal story of the pickle, saying its green color blended with the tree and that a child would be rewarded for their “keen observation” in finding it.

Another, far more disturbing folk origin involves an evil shopkeeper in Myra, a town that hosted the benevolent St. Nicholas in the Middle Ages. As the story goes, the shopkeeper enjoyed dismembering children and stuffing them into pickle barrels. St. Nicholas prayed, and the mutilated children emerged from their briny fates alive and well.

Whether it had origins in Spreewald or gruesome fantasies, it seems Americans embraced the tale. One prominent German ornament manufacturer, Lauscha Glass Center, started making the ornaments in the mid-1990s—but only after one of their employees visited Michigan and saw the Christmas pickle adorning trees there. So if you’re looking to do something different this season, consider the pickle. It’s either a German tradition hardly any German has heard of, or the result of pickled child mutilation. Happy holidays.

[h/t simplemost]

How Mister Rogers Used King Friday to Make Friday the 13th Less Scary for Kids

Getty Images
Getty Images

King Friday XIII, son of King Charming Thursday XII and Queen Cinderella Monday, is an avid arts lover, a talented whistler, and a former pole vaulter. He reigns over Calendarland with lots of pomp and poise, and he’s usually correct.

Fans of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood may also remember that the monarch was born on Friday the 13th, because his birthday was celebrated on the program every Friday the 13th. Though the math isn’t perfect—according to Timeanddate.com, Friday the 13th sometimes happens two or three times a year—the heartwarming reason behind the unconventionally-timed birthday celebrations absolutely is.

Fred Rogers explained that he wanted to give children a reason to look forward to Friday the 13th, instead of buying into the negative superstitions that surround the dreaded date. “We thought, ‘Let’s start children out thinking that Friday the 13th was a fun day,’” he said in a 1999 interview. “So we would celebrate his birthday every time a Friday the 13th came.”

Rogers added that the tradition worked out so well partially because the show was broadcast live, and viewers knew to anticipate an especially festive episode whenever they spotted a Friday the 13th on the calendar.

Speaking of calendars: There’s an equally charming story behind the name Calendarland. In the same interview, Rogers disclosed that King Friday once asked children to write in with suggestions for his then-nameless country. One boy posited that since King Friday was named after a calendar date, his realm should be named after the calendar. Then, the lucky youngster was invited to the set, where King Friday christened him a prince of Calendarland.

King Friday might be king of Calendarland, but Mister Rogers is definitely the king of understanding how to make kids feel safe, smart, and special.

Mattel Is Releasing a Day of the Dead Barbie Doll

Mattel
Mattel

Barbie may be celebrating her 60th birthday, but she she looks as fresh-faced today as she did when she first emerged from her box in the spring of 1959. In celebration of Barbie's new sexagenarian status, Mattel—the toy company that has sold more than a billion Barbie dolls—is releasing a range of limited-edition Barbies, including Rosa Parks, Sally Ride, and David Bowie dolls. Now, according to USA Today, the company is getting into the autumnal spirit with its latest collectible: a Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Barbie.

Retailing for $75, the doll will be sold on Amazon and at Target and Walmart stores beginning tomorrow, September 12. The doll “honors the traditions, symbols, and rituals often seen throughout this time,” Mattel told CNN. Día de los Muertos is celebrated primarily in Mexico from October 31 to November 2 and is a day to pay tribute to those who have passed on—who supposedly return for a brief visit of their own.

Barbie has always been known for her excellent fashion sense, and she’s dressed for this occasion wearing a black, ruffled dress embroidered with monarch butterflies, as well as yellow and red marigolds. The Día de los Muertos Barbie's face is painted as a traditional Day of the Dead skull mask and she's decked out with a headpiece featuring marigolds and more monarchs.

The butterflies are symbolic: Every winter in Mexico, billions of monarch butterflies descend into the mountains and forests in Mexico. Because they arrive at the beginning of Day of the Dead, some people believe that the insects are carrying the spirits of the dearly departed with them.

[h/t USA Today]

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