For those that celebrate Christmas, today and tomorrow are special days. And just like many other holidays, Christmas is a day steeped in superstition and traditions to call forth luck and prosperity in the new year. There's mistletoe, mushrooms, holly and ivy, and then there's these three...
The tradition of the Christmas pickle was famously attributed to the Germans, though few Germans have ever heard of it and the real origins remain a mystery. In 1880 F.W. Woolworth in the United States began importing glass ornaments for Christmas Trees. Often in the shapes of various fruits and vegetables, it’s theorized that some may have been pickle shaped. At some point after that, families in the US began a tradition where the pickle ornament was the last to be hung on the tree on Christmas Eve, after the children went to bed. The first child to find it in the morning got to open the first gift, got an extra gift or in some iterations of the tradition is simply blessed with good luck in the upcoming year.
For Ukrainians, spiders and webs represent good luck and their Christmas trees are decorated with artificial webs to usher in luck and good fortune for the new year. The legend goes that the children of a widow living in a cramped and cold hut tended a pinecone seedling until it grew into a tree so that they could have a Christmas tree that year. When the time came to decorate it however, the widow, destitute, had to disappoint her children and tell them that decorations would not be possible again that year. The children accepted their fate but cried as they went to sleep on that cold Christmas Eve. The household spiders, hearing the children’s sobs, spun intricate and beautiful webs allover the tree throughout the night. In the morning, the children awoke to the sunlight gleaning off the webs and cried out to their mother to come and see their wonderfully decorated tree. As the rays of the sun continued to climb up the tree, the webs turned to silver and gold and the family never wanted for anything again.
In parts of Spain, Portugal and Italy the nativity scene includes the usual suspects – Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and sheep and of course the baby Jesus. But there is often another figure included, the caganer. A traditional figure from the 18th century, El Caganer, literally means “the crapper” or “the shitter”. He is a small porcelain figure of a peasant wearing the traditional Catalan red cap, the barretina, and he is squatting with his pants around his ankles and defecating onto the ground. The caganer is seen as a sign of good luck because he fertilizes the earth, insuring a good harvest in the upcoming year. The legend was that if a country family did not put a caganer in their nativity scene, they would have a very bad year collecting vegetables. This figure is never in front of the nativity scene, as that would show a lack of respect. He is hidden in a corner, under a bridge, or behind a tree and each morning of the holiday season some families have the children hunt for him as part of a game.
Whatever traditions you may have, we hope they bring you peace, luck, and joy this holiday season. Happy holidays from us to you.