According to several sites spread across the Internet, the German Christmas Pickle is a “very ancient Christmas eve tradition in Germany.” Supposedly generations of German parents would hide an ornament shaped like a pickle somewhere deep within the branches of their Christmas tree after all of the other ornaments had been hung. The first child to find the ornament the next morning got an extra present from St. Nick. If the first person to find the pickle was an adult, they were supposed to have good luck during the course of the next year.
When you look closely at the legend, however, it appears to fall apart. First, children in Germany traditionally open their gifts on Christmas Eve, not Christmas morning and St Nick generally visits on either the 5th or 6th of December. Both of these facts would make it impossible for the first child to see the pickle on Christmas morning to get an extra present from St Nick. But even more importantly is the fact that few, if any, native Germans have ever even heard of the tradition. Those that have apparently learned about it from either Americans or German friends who learned of it while visiting America.
So where did the legend of the German Christmas Pickle come from? One popular story being related across the Internet deals with a Bavarian-born Civil War soldier being captured and sent to prison in Andersonville, Georgia. In poor health, starving and fearing death, he is said to have begged one of the guards for a pickle. The guard found the poor man a pickle, which miraculously revived him and allowed him to live long enough to return to his family. Once there, he is said to have started the tradition of hiding the pickle among the boughs of the Christmas tree each year.
Regardless of whether this is the origin of the German Christmas Pickle or not, the fact remains that Germans do not claim the tradition, and though it is a cute and unusual legend, the German Christmas Pickle tradition appears to be a total fabrication.
About.com says “Urban legends are popular stories alleged to be true which spread from person to person via oral or written communication, “ and that they “tend to arise spontaneously and are rarely traceable to a single point of origin.” The legend of the German Christmas Pickle definitely seems to fall into the category of an urban legend. And like other urban legends, the who and why is probably destined to remain a mystery.