What was the weirdest Christmas present you’ve ever received?

Thanks to Lorenzo Peroni for the request.

This was originally published in the old Catholic church newspaper Christen today in the 2015/12 issue. [1 But it fits the theme.

The Christmas tradition that isn’t

An old treasure in my box full of Christmas tree decorations is a gift from my mother from the USA, a Christmas pickle (“Christmas cucumber”).

It is a “cucumber” made of glass, entirely in the noble style of the Ore Mountain craft. According to the caption, it’s an ancient custom: the cucumber is the last to hang on the Christmas tree and the child who finds it gets a special gift. According to the inscription, this custom came from good old Germany.

Well, dear readers, you are certainly thinking: How please?

Never heard of it. Must be a duck.

In fact, my ex-wife (from Lippe) and my current wife (from the Allgäu) and their families know nothing about it.I’ve had this scary cucumber for about 15 years. Every year German visitors come to my apartment and marvel at this strange cucumber, which hangs in the middle of the otherwise so “traditional” Christmas tree.

On Wikipedia and Snopes it can be read that the Christmas Pickle is an urban legend from the USA.Someone there came up with the idea of marketing such cucumbers as a quaint German tradition, and many Americans — who should have known better, since the Germans are by far the largest immigration group — fell for it. Many people on the Internet are still asking where this tradition comes from. No one seems to be able to clear it up for good. The only thing that is certain is that the tradition does not come from Germany.

I hang them up anyway, because it’s kind of the snarling.I am probably the only one in Germany who hangs a “German” Christmas cucumber on his Christmas tree. There’s something about that.

However, the Germans must not smile too much at the expense of the doofy Americans.Because I see here all the time “American” products that are not. For example, fries cream – so mayonnaise – with the inscription just like in the USA!Only anyone who has ever seen Pulp Fiction knows that an American would never come up with the idea of doing something like this on his French fries.Or a special favorite: hot dog sausages, whose packaging is teeming with Stars and Stripes, with the glorious name Five Willies.only… Willy is slang for the male limb.Well then, bon appétit.

The bottom line is that people from all over the world are equally naive or can be sold for stupid.But you can also see it differently: people also long for something distant, something idealized. Just as the Americans idealize Germany – Germany is a kind of Teutonic Disneyland with Neuschwanstein, beer and dirndl and Christmas trees with cucumbers for happy blonde children in leather pants with bright eyes. A Germany that you would hardly find in Berlin, Dortmund or Hamburg.

Likewise, many Germans idealize the USA or other countries and project their hopes and desires on to them and their customs.Of course, this has nothing to do with the objective “reality” – but it is nevertheless part of one’s own self-cobbled together reality.

This longing is only human.Every human being does it in his own way, even if most people do not perceive it that way. In the Bible there are certainly examples of this. The Israelites in exile, for example: “At the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept, when we thought of Zion. / We hung our harps / on the pastures of that land… / If I ever forget you, Jerusalem, / then shall my right hand wither.” For them, “Jerusalem” was really just something abstract, something ideal that never existed.

Or take the English hymn “Jerusalem” – “And did those feet / in ancient time / walk upon England’s mountains green” – which England compares to this ideal Zion, even heaven.It alludes to the legend of the young Jesus in England (the “ancient feet” are his feet). This legend is hardly credible and is certainly a duck (or cucumber). Nevertheless, this “Jerusalem” is the ideal home for the English, even though they are so strongly secularized, and the song still moves them. But as we say in America, you can’t go home again – because this “home” no longer exists, maybe never existed.

We all yearn for “Zion” in our own way, and each builds his “Zion”.For some, this is an America overflowing with fries with mayonnaise and sausages called Willy and thick pizzas with beans and pineapple. For the others, they are German Christmas trees with Spreewald cucumbers made of glass.

Christmas is itself such a “Zion” every year again – we tinker with our own “traditions” and invoke “ancient” customs that are not so old.The Christmas tree itself can only be detected from the 15th century onwards. The gift on Christmas Eve did not take place until after the Reformation. Many of the most famous and popular Christmas carols are no older than 200 years – Silent Night, Holy Night dates back to 1816 for example, as well as O du cheerful.Kling, bells, klingeling was written in 1854.But today these songs are considered “traditional”. A Christmas song that really goes back to the original church – let alone until the “first Christmas” – is hardly to be found in the hymnbook. All just ducks and cucumbers wherever you look.

So I hang on my cucumber, which I like to hang on my tree – knowing full well that this “tradition” is not one.But this is how traditions are created, because we lovingly continue and pass it on and link it to idealized popular images. Whether these traditions are historically ‘real’ is not relevant, but how we fill them with feelings and memories and what we associate with them. This creates their authenticity.

I will definitely give my children a cucumber for their Christmas trees.Who knows, maybe this “German tradition” will eventually become native to Germany.

Supplement to the original article

Look what I saw last week in Potsdam:

The following conversation with my wife arose via text message:

Well, we give you Germans a German tradition, and that’s thanks.

Footnotes

[1 Catholic Diocese of Old Catholics in Germany

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