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The Christmas Pickle

The TALE: Tehachapi Art, Literature and Entertainment

I was a preschool teacher many years ago. When the Christmas season arrived, we decorated a tree with the kids in the classroom. They were so excited. We read all sorts of Christmas books and talked about various traditions in other countries. I came across the story about the Christmas Pickle at this time. It has an ambiguous beginning. Maybe in Germany or a Scandinavian country? No one is quite sure.

The story goes that a Christmas ornament in the shape of a pickle is hidden within the branches of the tree. The first child to spot the pickle in hiding gets an early present. That seemed like a fun tradition. But back then, pickle ornaments were not easy to find.

Teachers are well adapted to adversity and good at improvisation. I improvised. I got an actual pickle, a gherkin if I am remembering correctly, and I pierced it with a needle and hung it by a thread deep, deep within the tree.

Days went by, and frankly, we forgot about it. The chaos of Christmas in a preschool classroom is quite intense, with projects of macaroni and paints and a large amount of glitter. We were in the last week of school before vacation when a distinct odor was noticed in the room. We searched and searched for a source. Maybe a stray snack? A hidden wedge of sandwich or cheese? Heaven forbid it was a deceased small animal, like a mouse!

It was on our last day of class, while singing a rambunctious, “We wish you a merry Christmas” around the tree that I spotted a strange, oddly shaped shadow out of the corner of my eye. I cautiously approached the tree, peering through the dense pine needles. Slowly and hesitantly, I reached my hand deep within the branches. I stopped the scream that began rising in my throat, while my head slowly caught up with my hand in handling the unknown.

I carefully pulled out the smelly culprit. The gherkin was quite unrecognizable by now, discolored, misshapen and a bit fuzzy. The children did scream at this point. I shuddered deeply. My co-teachers just shook their heads.

It was later decided, unanimously by both the students and teachers, that I was to win the extra present that year. That I deserved it for both my bravery and the strength of not screaming. I really enjoyed those new crayons and coloring book.

I now smile each year at the memory, as I take my glass blown pickle ornament out of its box and hide it within the branches of my tree. I toy with the idea of just one more time, placing a gherkin within. I’m waiting for my grandchildren to be just a little bit older. In the meantime, they innocently look for the Christmas pickle, in hopes of that extra present. I will not disappoint.