Did you know that the German Christmas Pickle Tradition has Civil War roots? It truly does!
The so called “German tradition” of the Weihnachts-Gurke or Christmas Pickle is one that most native Germans have never heard of in their homeland, however across the pond it became an immediate hit with children and their families all across America.
To think the result of today’s “German Christmas Pickle Tradition” actually all started in a US Confederate POW camp in the 1860’s in Georgia. It was inspired from a little act of kindness by a Confederate Prison Guard to a desperate, near death Union Prisoner of German nationality. That gesture actually fortified a will for that POW to survive and live to see another day and to pioneer the Christmas Pickle.
In the spirit of Christmas, many children across America are captivated each yule tide season by participating in a newly discovered family tradition of being the first child to find a unique Christmas ornament that looks like a pickle and is hidden deep in the boughs of their Christmas tree a few days earlier by their parents.
After the excitement of opening gifts is long over, the trash is all picked up and the initial thrill of playing with the new toys have subsided somewhat, the last thing on the Christmas morning agenda for the children to accomplish is to race each other to the now stripped Christmas tree… and find that pickle! The winner that finds the special Christmas pickle will often receive an additional present, a special consideration or even some extra money plus the certainty of guaranteed good-luck over the upcoming year.
John William Lower, formerly known as Hans Wilhelm Lauer of Ernstthal, Germany was in Philadelphia visiting family when he decided to join forces and serve the Union Army during the Civil War as a civilian wagon and forage master.
John Lower was eventually captured by southern confederate forces and was sent to prison in Andersonville, Georgia at a POW camp named Camp Sumter which was the largest Confederate military prison during the American Civil War. Camp Sumter was a place that out of approximately 45,000 Union prisoners of war, 12,913 prisoners died on location from a variety of causes that including starvation, malnutrition, diarrhea and disease.
It was now in the winter of 1864. The Civil War between the States would not end until the late summer of the next year in 1865. John Lower himself was now faced with starvation and certain death as his health and mental faculty deteriorated with each passing day. It was on a crisp Christmas morning that John noticed a confederate prison guard eating a pickle and begged for one for himself. The compassionate guard took pity on John Lower and gave him a pickle in a most sincere act of kindness.
John confessed to close family and friends that it was indeed that pickle that ultimately saved his life. It was symbolic gesture of kindness and more or less gave him hope, strength and determination to make it through a very horrific period of his life in captivity.
It was back home in Germany years later that Mr. Lower purchased a custom made and ordered Christmas Pickle Ornament to bring back to America when visiting relatives in Philadelphia Pa. His plan was to share it with his USA based German-American family too.
John’s German Christmas Pickle Tradition, that he started himself with his very own children in Germany was huge success! The process is simply hiding a special pickle ornament on the Christmas tree to bring blessed good fortune and luck to the child who found it on Christmas morning… in addition to receiving another special gift.
You may be wondering now if this is a true story or not? Let’s take a look at the facts as they present themselves and allow you the reader of the story to make up your own mind.
- There was a German emigrant family under the name of John Lower from the 1800″s census residing in Philadelphia Pa.
- There was a Confederate military prison during the American Civil War named Camp Sumter located in Andersonville, GA. where 12,913 POW prisoners there died in captivity.
- Hans Wilhelm Lauer (John William Lower) was again himself from Ernstthal, Germany and Lauscha, Germany is interestingly less than 20 miles away form Ernstthal, Germany that is now located in the German state of Thuringia.
Let it be also known that the glass blower craftsmen in Lauscha, Germany was known for producing the first (German made) glass ornaments in 1597. It was in 1847 when the craftsmen produced ornaments in the in the shape of fruits and nuts and were freely exported across parts of Europe, England and some in the United States as well!
In 1880 F.W. Woolworth began importing these glass ornaments to the USA and beyond and eventually monopolized the market making a fortune!
It’s quite amusing sometimes how traditions actually start and most people have no idea the real story behind the story. In the land of St Nick, the Christmas tree, fruitcake and candy canes, you now have to throw in a pickle as well. The question will now always be, “Is the actual pickle be a dill or a sweet one?
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