anne mikolay 2012 120“Oh, Christmas tree! Oh, Christmas tree!
Such pleasure do you bring me!
Oh, Christmas tree! Oh, Christmas tree!
Such pleasure do you bring me!
For every year, this Christmas tree,
Brings to us such joy and … pickles.”

Pickles? Yes, pickles.

The first time I saw a glass pickle hanging on a Christmas tree, I was as baffled as you are now. Apparently, however, there are many “odd” holiday symbols that, while not widely familiar, are as beloved to some people as the traditional Christmas bells and stars.

For example, in Germany, where the fir tree was decorated on Christmas Eve, pickles were considered a special decoration by many families. Parents hid the glass pickle deep within the tree's branches. The first child to find the pickle on Christmas morning received a special gift from St. Nicholas. Acorns, too, held special meaning for Germans, who considered the acorn tree sacred. Acorns symbolized rebirth of life as witnessed through the coming of the Christ child; early German Christmas trees were thus adorned with acorns. Today, glass acorns have replaced the oak nut, but the symbolism remains. Like the acorn, carrots represented good luck in Germany, and glass carrots were traditionally given to new brides to ensure success in the kitchen. Bounty and blessings were similarly represented by glass ears of corn, and walnuts were thought to predict  the future. During holiday celebrations, parents cracked walnuts hoping the nut would not be spoiled; a spoiled nut predicted death. Children stuck tiny candles in walnut shells and set them afloat in water. Long life was promised to the boy whose candle burned to the end without capsizing, and the best husband was promised to the little girl whose candle stayed afloat the longest.

Such superstition played a major role in Christmas traditions not only in Germany, but throughout the world. In medieval times, if an apple was cut and revealed a perfect star inside, good health and fortune were assured. Birds were considered messengers of love and harbingers of prosperity. To this day, legend dictates that prosperity will come to any home where a bird's nest is found nestled in the branches of the Christmas tree. While parents hoped to find the bird's nest, children looked forward to finding an orange, a reward from Santa for good behavior, stuffed into their Christmas stockings. Many years ago, oranges were costly and scarce during winter months and considered a special treat at Christmas time. Oranges were the first figural glass ornaments mass produced.

Though our Christmas ornaments have changed through the years, the inherent sentiment remains the same. Whether you're hanging Grandma's old, glass pickle on your tree, or a resin donut from Dunkin Donuts, may you find good, old fashioned joy in your holidays – and a bird's nest in your tree.