Christmas Vegetables

Brothers and sisters,

You know the old saying, “You learn something new every day”? Well, over the last few weeks, I’ve learned a lot of new things about various Christmas traditions from around the world. Obviously, there are some pretty universal traditions associated with Christmas here in the United States. Families will also typically have specific Christmas traditions. But I recently learned of two Christmas traditions and, believe it or not, they both have to do with vegetables.

Now, how did I stumble upon these Christmas vegetables, you might ask. A few weeks ago, I was researching the origins of some of the Advent decorations in our sanctuary to help prepare for the Hanging of the Greens. As part of that, I went to the Wikipedia article for “Poinsettia” and noticed a suggested link for “Christmas plants.” I thought, “Wait. How many Christmas plants are there? Poinsettias, Christmas trees, and evergreens, right?” Wrong! I clicked the link and was transported to a page that informed me about various and sundry plants used around the world in Christmas celebrations. But there was one that caught my eye.

In Oaxaca City, Mexico, December 23rd is known as “The Night of the Radishes.” Every year, people will carve elaborate scenes and figures out of radishes to create competitive displays in the city’s Christmas Market. The competition dates back to December 23, 1897, but the night itself predates that. According to legend, there was a year in the mid-18th century when the radish crop was so huge, large swathes of land were covered in unharvested radishes. That December, two friars pulled up some of the radishes and were amused by their sizes and shapes. They brought them to the Christmas Market on the 23rd and, after the radishes garnered attention, the friars carved them into shapes and figures. And so, The Night of the Radishes was born!

The other tradition I recently learned of is known as “The Christmas Pickle.” I was texting with my friends the other day and we were talking about our family’s Christmas traditions. One of my best friends from back home in Goldsboro informed all of us that every year, his grandmother would, “hide a pickle in the Christmas tree.” Curious, I texted back, “Wait, what?” After assuring me it was an ornament and not a real pickle, one of our other friends, who is not from Goldsboro, chimed in and said, “Oh yeah! My family does that too!” Again, I responded, “Wait, what?” She then informed me that one of her housemates, who is from Sampson County, also hid a pickle in her Christmas tree. To which I finally responded, “Well, it sounds like the Mount Olive Pickle Company’s marketing arm has been working overtime!” (Mount Olive Pickles are made just one town over from where I grew up).

However, apparently, “The Christmas Pickle,” is a real thing! It is believed to have been started in the United States in the 1890s. Though typically attributed to German immigrants, it is probably actually related to the importation of glass ornaments from Germany by Woolworths. Vegetable ornaments became popular in France in 1892 and were then also imported to the United States. Regardless of where it came from, The Christmas Pickle comes with a little game attached to it. Parents will hide the pickle deep in the Christmas tree and then, on Christmas Eve, they will ask their children to find the pickle. The first child that does either receives an extra present from Santa Claus or good fortune for the rest of the year. All thanks to a pickle!

Why tell these two stories? First, cause they’re fun! And isn’t Christmas supposed to be fun? But second, because it is amazing to me to see the creativity of people all over the world as we find ways to bring joy into the Christmas season. What a wonderful time of year!

Grace and peace,

Pastor Ben