Christmas cucumber: That’s behind the custom

Christmas pickle
Why a cucumber hangs on the Christmas tree

Glass Christmas cucumber

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A cucumber on the Christmas tree? What sounds strange at first is actually an old German Christmas custom. At least many Americans are firmly convinced of this and hang their glass “Christmas Pickle” in the tree on Christmas morning.

The small sour glass cucumber is hardly noticeable between the green pine needles – Whoever finds it first will receive an extra gift from Santa Claus and a year full of happiness. The custom is widespread in the USA – just like the belief that the tradition comes from Germany. However, a survey by YouGov from 2016 showed that 91 percent of Germans don’t even know the Christmas cucumber. Maybe you have a cucumber hanging on your tree and you never knew why. There are various theories about the origins of the custom.

A Christmas cucumber as a lifesaver

The Bavarian emigrant John C. Lower, originally Hans Lauer, is said to have served on the side of the northern states in the American Civil War in the 1860s and to have been sent to the “Camp Sumter” prisoner of war camp in the US state of Georgia in 1864. There he is said to have been on the verge of starvation on Christmas Eve and asked the guard for one last meal – a single pickle. It is only thanks to this cucumber that John is said to have survived. To commemorate his rescue, the emigrant is said to have hung a cucumber on the Christmas tree every year after the end of the war – thus creating a tradition.

However, the Weimar glass craftsman Dieter Dressler expressed the theory to the “New York Times” that People in the Spreewald hung cucumbers on their trees, because they were simply too poor for other jewelry. Emigrants from this region, where pickles are traditionally grown and pickled, are said to have taken their custom with them to the USA.

Or just a marketing move?

The most likely theory about the legendary Christmas cucumber is this one: German glassblowers from Thuringia are said to have started making Christmas tree decorations in the shape of fruits as early as the 1840s. The founder of the American department store chain “Woolworth” Frank Winfield Woolworth is said to have been so impressed by the unusual ornaments during a trip to Germany that he decided to import them in 1880. He seemed to particularly like the cucumber – which he quickly sold as a German tradition.

Many German traditional Christmas decoration manufacturers now also have the Christmas cucumber in different sizes in their range, as it is becoming increasingly popular here too. So from now on, when you’re asked why there’s a cucumber hanging on your tree, you can tell the legend of Private John C. Lower – was he your great-great-grandfather?

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