The Christmas Pickle is a charming Christmas tree decorating holiday tradition. The Christmas Pickle, or Die Weihnachtsgurke, is one of the strangest modern customs of disputed origins. It was thought to be from Germany, since the Christmas tree originated there. So what's the 'dill'? The Christmas pickle tradition is largely unknown in Germany even though beautiful glass pickles have been made there for centuries.
One story comes from Berrien Springs, Michigan, the pickle capital of the world, with a Victorian era tale of St. Nicholas saving two Spanish children who were caught by a mean innkeeper and trapped them in a barrel of pickles. Being caught by a wicked innkeeper and trapped in a barrel is a good illustration of being 'in a pickle', that's for sure!
A more credible tale comes from Camp Sumter during the American Civil War of a soldier named John C. Lower. Born in Bavaria in 1842, he and his family left their home in Germany and emigrated to the United States of America. John Lower had enlisted in the 103rd Pennsylvania Infantry, but was captured in Plymouth, North Carolina, in April of the year 1864 and taken to prison in Andersonville, Georgia. The Camp Sumter military prison at Andersonville was one of the largest Confederate military prisons during the War. In the 14 months the prison existed, more than 45,000 Union soldiers were imprisoned. Of these, almost 13,000 died. Today, Andersonville National Historic Site is a memorial to all American prisoners of war throughout the nation's history. The words "Death Before Dishonor" appear on a third of the state monuments at Andersonville. This phrase is the motto of the Union Ex-Prisoners of War association, and illustrates the stalwart devotion of the Union POWs to their country.
The story goes... On Christmas Eve, 1864, near death of starvation, his spirit broken, John Lower begged the guard for something to eat before resigning to his own death. The guard having mercy on John, found a pickle to give him. The pickle not only revived his spirit but gave John the mental and physical strength to live on. After being liberated and reuniting with his family once again, he began the tradition of hiding a pickle in the Christmas tree every year, thus creating one of the earliest purely American Christmas traditions.
While this is a family narrative that cannot be easily verified, Private John Lower was a soldier in the American Civil War and prisoner in Andersonville, that much is for certain. No matter what you want to believe about the pickle on the tree, an old tradition from Germany or a memorial to the powerful grace of mercy and the fortitude of the human spirit, it is a tradition worthy of remembrance.
Whether you call it good luck or great timing, pickles represent extending the warm feelings of the season. The one who finds the humble fruit amongst the tree boughs gets good fortune for the year and a special gift or treat. The gift I like to give to the finder is usually something we can all join in and play with or share- a football to play catch, a card game, a movie, a box of chocolates or a board game.
On Christmas Eve, place the pickle ornament next to the plate with Santa's cookies before the children go to sleep. Santa hangs the pickle in it's hiding place on the tree and leaves the extra gift on the empty plate. On Christmas morning after breakfast I remind everyone it's time to look for the hidden fruit. I like to hide it on a branch right up against the trunk to make it tricky to find! Inevitably it becomes a hide the pickle game and we give everyone a chance to 'hide 'n seek' the pickle.
If you have very young children participating you might want to hide the pickle in a more forward position on the tree branch, or play the hot/cold game as they get nearer or further away from finding it. Some families like to start with a large sized pickle and replace it with an increasingly smaller sized pickle every year to make it more and more difficult to find. If you want to play without having an extra gift, the finder gets to open the first present, light a candle, or some other privilege. Or you can give the finder an actual pickle!
However you interpret and celebrate this tradition, we hope you have fun incorporating the Christmas pickle into your holiday season.
Step 1: Create the Basic Pickle Shape
Using the CAD tool of your choice, start by sketching what can only be described as a 'pickle' shape!
Because we will be using these curves to drive surfaces, it is important to be sure that the ends of the curves are normal (perpendicular), so that the resulting surfaces will be tangent. And because pickles are symmetrical (like most things in nature), your first set of curves should be drawn on a plane that will become your symmetry plane.
Add a third curve on the plane that is normal (perpendicular) to the symmetry plane. Again, be sure to make the ends of the curves normal, so that the resulting surface is tangent.
Create a surface through the curves. Be sure to control the surface so that the edges are normal to the plane of symmetry.
Mirror the surface about the plane of symmetry, and join the two surfaces together, forming a single quilt.
Solidify the quilt, turning your part into a solid.
Step 2: Add a Feature for Hanging
You will of course want to hang your pickle on your Christmas tree, so be sure to create a feature to attach a ribbon, string or hook.
Step 3: Organic Bumps
Okay, take a look at a pickle, and you'll see several small bumps. These bumps appear to be randomly placed, but under closer inspection, you may notice that they follow lines from one end of the pickle to the other.
Following whatever methods are required with your CAD software, create a radial array of curves on the surface of the pickle. This will give you something to attach the bumps to in the next step.
Sketching and creating several individual bumps would be a daunting task, so instead, create a sphere as a separate part file. Be sure to include a datum point in the center of the sphere.
Step 4: Add the Bumps
With your CAD software, create an assembly. The first component will be the pickle body part.
Then assemble the bump part, and constrain the point in the center of the bump to one of the contour curves on the pickle body. You will want to leave the bump free to be moved along the curve, so that you can adjust it later, into a position that looks good.
Continue adding as many bumps as you like. If your CAD software supports mirroring the placement of components, you may want to arrange the bumps on only one half, and then mirror them about the symmetry plane.
Step 5: Export .stl File
From your finished assembly, export a Stereolithography file in .stl format. Be sure to adjust the export settings in your CAD software to capture the fine details of the bumps.
Step 6: 3D Print
Step 7: Paint Your Pickle
Depending on your 3D printer, your pickle may be white (which is actually not too bad for winter decorations), clear (like ours), or you could print your pickle with colored filiment, or on a full-color 3D printer.
But for realism, you can paint your pickle, starting with a good base coat of primer.
Because pickles have a natural gradation in their coloring, you should use more than one shade of green, with your first coat being a light, yellowish green.
To simulate the streaks of darker green color, create a 'wash' of a paint and thinner mix. In this case we are using acrylic paint, so we used water as the thinner. We ended up with about a 50/50 mix. Gently brush streaks of color down the length of the pickle.
Tip: Empty coffee creamer containers make excellent paint mixing cups!
A final color coat of just paint (no thinner) can be applied randomly. To darken up the bumps, you can use the dry brush technique, by applying paint to the brush, then brushing most of it off on paper towel (or newspaper), then gently brushing across the surface of the pickle.
After the paint dries, it is a good idea to spray it with a clear coat of paint, to seal it. Gloss or matte (dull), its up to you.
Step 8: Hide Your Pickle!
Add a ribbon, string or hook.
Hide in your Christmas tree, and don't forget about the special gift or treat for the one who finds it first!
Step 9: Wounded Warrior Project - Form 1+ Printer
This ornament was created using the shared Form 1+ 3D printer at TechShop Detroit. If we are fortunate enough to win the Formlabs Contest, we will use our printer to launch a new small business to create and sell personalized Christmas Pickle ornaments with the names of fallen loved ones and heroes. And because we will be able to print three-dimensionally, we will be able to create messages in Braille for the visually impaired!
Proceeds from the sales of Christmas Pickles will go to the Wounded Warrior Project, in honor of all our veterans.
If you like this project, and would like to help us make our dream come true, please vote for it!
In accordance with the rules of the Formlabs Contest, Steven J. Frey is the primary author.
Thank you for your consideration!
Participated in the
Participated in the
3D Printed Ornament Design Challenge
Participated in the
Superheroes and Supervillains Contest