The Christmas pickle and candy canes

By Jackie Wolgamott - For The Times-Gazette

Traditional candy canes hang from a Christmas tree.

Traditional candy canes hang from a Christmas tree.

Photo by Jackie Wolgamott

Everyone has Christmas traditions. Some are passed down from generation to generation and some are new. But have you ever heard about the Christmas pickle?

Legend has it that the tradition came from Germany, but very few Germans ever heard of the tradition. However, Old World Christmas Company started selling the mouth-blown glass pickle ornament in the 1980s. The company is in Lausch, Germany and the pickle has been its best selling ornament for 37 years. It sold 25,000 pickles in 2017.

So, where did the legend of the Christmas pickle come from? Did it come from the legend of the Woolsworth’s salesmen trying to sell Christmas ornaments? During the 1880s, Woolworth’s began selling blown glass ornaments. The ornaments were blown glass fruits and vegetables called Glasschmuck, made in Lausch, Germany. The legend states, “that German people hang a pickle on the tree and the first child to find it gets an extra present.

Another legend tells the story of a German soldier who came from Barvaria and was a prisoner of war during the American Civil War. The soldier fought on the Union side and was being held at a Confederate camp in Andersonville, Georgia. The soldier was starving to death and asked the guard for a pickle. The story goes that when the soldier ate the pickle, it kept him from starving to death and gave him the strength to go on. When the soldier returned home, he started the pickle tradition. The belief is that whoever finds the pickle will have success and good fortune the following year.

Another legend, tells of two young Spanish boys traveling home from boarding school. The boys stopped at an inn to spend the night and the evil innkeeper killed the two boys, stuffing them into a pickle barrel. When St. Nicholas stopped at the inn, he found the two boys and used his magic powers to bring the boys back to life.

Whatever legend you believe, remember the Christmas pickle should be the last ornament to be placed on the tree.

During the 17th century, when Christmas trees began appearing, people decorated them with candy sticks and cookies.

The first historical reference to a candy cane with a hook was back in 1670. A choirmaster bent the candy to look like a shepherd’s hook. These candies were easier to hang on a tree. The candy was also given to children so they would be quiet during the long nativity scene at church.

When candy canes first appeared, they were all white, and sometimes the candy cane maker would add a sugar rose. The custom of hanging candy canes came to America in 1847, when a German immigrant in Wooster, Ohio decorated his tree with candy canes.

Around 1897, the first red and white candy canes appeared. About this time candy makers began adding peppermint and wintergreen flavors to the candy. These flavors soon became traditional flavors.

In 1919, Bob McCormack started Bob’s Candies and they soon became famous for his candy canes. Candy canes were originally made from hand to form the “J.” Then in 1950, Gregory Keller, Bob’s brother-in-law, made a machine designed for automatic candy production.

Legend has it that candy canes are shaped like a “J” for Jesus. The red and white stripes represent Christ’s blood and purity, the three stripes represent the Holy Trinity, the hardness represents the church’s foundation on solid rock, and the peppermint flavor represents hyssop, an herb referred to in the Bible’s Old Testament.

Whatever your beliefs or traditions, have yourself a merry little Christmas!

Sources for this story included:,, and

Jackie Wolgamott is a stringer for The Times-Gazette.

Traditional candy canes hang from a Christmas tree. candy canes hang from a Christmas tree. Photo by Jackie Wolgamott

By Jackie Wolgamott

For The Times-Gazette