Christmas Around The World

Crisper-fresh Festivities from Afar

By Karen Prather

[December 2019 | San Juan Silver Stage]

HAVE YOU EVER SEARCHED BETWEEN THE BRANCHES of your Christmas tree for a pickle? Or made the Yuletide journey to the grocery produce section to carve a holiday radish? Everyone knows Black Friday and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer were notions conceived in the marketing department of some cold, corporate office building, so why not seek inspiration from the rest of the world for new traditions? We looked around for some unique holiday practices and found the people of Germany and Mexico celebrating an underappreciated guest at all our dinners: produce!

Gherkins of Glee

Pickle Ornament. Available at Fauula Gifts, Montrose.

Mystery surrounds the origin of the Christmas pickle, but any German boy or girl knows the advantages of locating the pickle-shaped ornament on the Christmas tree. According to legend, each Christmas Eve, parents hang a well-hidden glass pickle ornament after the tree is otherwise completely decorated. St. Nicholas favors the most observant child, who notices the pickle before the others and, in return, receives an extra gift this holiday. Even better, for finding the Weihnachtsgurke, this kid gets good luck for the entire year!

Interestingly enough, natives of Germany hardly recognize or practice this tradition. Although many sources insist the yearly pickle hunt stems from families in Germany, other historians believe the practice to be initiated by German immigrants or international retail companies. One soldier of German descent claimed the ingestion of a pickle brought him back from the brink of death, and it became a symbol of good fortune for his family and, eventually, others. Other theorists attribute the popularization of the Christmas pickle to the F.W. Woolworth Company, who published the story on marketing material to promote the purchase of glass ornaments.

Regardless of its original intention, many families of German descent look forward to the fun and excitement of a pickle hunt each Christmas morning.

“Dulce Regional Oaxaqueño” by Carlos Laurencio Vazquez Sebastian at the 2014 Noche de Rabanos in the city of Oaxaca, Mexico.  AlejandroLinaresGarcia.

Rooting Replaces Rudolph

In the southwestern state of Oaxaca, Mexico, the geological preservation of numerous indigenous cultures enriched the lives of its residents. For their 122nd year, residents will celebrate, “La Noche de Rábanos,” or “Night of the Radishes,” in the capital’s main square.

Vendors at the community’s annual Christmas market began carving radishes to attract buyers. In 1897, the city’s president announced a regional radish-carving competition. Held each year on December 23, citizens select radishes from a private, government-owned radish crop, to ensure an equal playing field.

Unlike the radishes we might find in a Western Slope grocer, extra fertilization produces giant radishes in Oaxaca, that are roughly the size of an adult hand. The giant beauties make excellent slabs for intricate carvings, often resembling individuals or famous historical scenes.

Many categories and levels of participation ensure that any Oaxaca resident, of any age, can join in this odd and unique radish tradition. Nativity scenes using radish figurines popularize the entries each year, including the winning sculpture in 2018. Each entrant can choose from a designated plot of radishes, available on a “first come first served basis.”

Due to the nature of the chosen medium, the Radish Night celebration only lasts a few hours, although sculptors have three days to complete their masterpieces. Some use moss and spray bottles to keep their radishes moist for the sculpting, which can be extremely difficult given some entries use more than 20 radishes!

Holidays focus on tradition and ritual, those customs passed down from generation to generation. If any tradition becomes too burdensome, we can always replace it with a new one, and if we look to the rest of the world for inspiration, your favorite new holiday activity just might revolve around a piece of produce.

For more information on pickles and radishes as Christmas ornaments, visit: ornamentshop.com/christmas-blog/history-christmas-pickle-tradition/ or cnn.com/travel/article/radish-carving-festival-oaxaca-mexico/index.html