by Matt Hershberger for USA TODAY 10Best

Your Christmas pickle ornament is based on a lie

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A lot of German-American families have Christmas pickles. The tradition varies, but it usually looks like this.

St. Nick (or someone in the family) hides the pickle on Christmas Eve, and the first to find it either gets an extra present, the right to open the first present, or good luck for a year.

The tradition is known as Weihnachtsgurke, which literally translates to "Christmas Eve Cucumber.” There are a few origin stories, too.

One claims that two Spanish children were murdered, their bodies hidden in a pickle barrel. St. Nick came along, tapped on the barrel with his cane, and the kids miraculously came back to life.

Another claims that a German immigrant and prisoner of war in the Andersonville camp asked a Confederate guard to give him a pickle. The guard obliged, and the man made a recovery from near death.

There's a teeny little problem with all of these stories, though: no one in Germany seems to have ever heard of them. Or, if they have, they've heard about them from Americans.

And in Germany, St. Nick comes much earlier in the month, so the pickle would have been long found by the time Weihnacht rolled around.

It doesn't appear that in Germany there is such a thing as the German Christmas Pickle at all. So where did it come from?

Woolworth's, the great five-and-dime store, started importing German-made glass-blown Christmas ornaments into the United States in the 1880s.

It’s possible that pickles simply didn't sell as well as other ornaments, on account of their color being roughly the same as that of an evergreen Christmas tree.

What seems to have happened is that someone, possibly at Woolworth's, saw the surplus of pickle ornaments, noticed that they were being shipped from Germany, and made up a story.

They attached to the pickles a card explaining this "ancient German tradition," and the legend took off. (Pickle ornaments today still have these cards attached, explaining the "German tradition.”)

Some German-Americans will be a bit disillusioned to hear that their ancient homeland tradition was actually a marketing scheme invented in the midst of an 1880s pickle ornament surplus.

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