Berrien Springs: Christmas Pickle Capital of the World
When is a pickle not a pickle? When it's a Christmas pickle in Berrien Springs. In this small southwest Michigan town, Christmas is about more than pine trees and mistletoe. Area festivals celebrate blueberries, cherries, apples, and peaches. But the Pickle Festival in Berrien Springs is a slice above the rest. In early December, and again around the Fourth of July the town of 2,000 celebrate Picklefest, a fun packed weekend kicked off by a Pickle Parade. The bread and butter of the festivities is the Grand Pickle Parade, colossal by small town standards. The grand marshal of the parade, conveniently known as the Grand Dillmeister, spearheads the event, passing out free pickles to parade spectators. For the rest of the day, festival goers can partake in an assortment of pickle activities, including recipe and decorating contests, three legged races, and the tasting of up to fifteen different varieties of pickles, which is nothing to pucker at. This bi-annual festival in Berrien Springs has awarded the town with the official title "Christmas Pickle Capital of the World," recognized by Pickle Packers International.
A nomad may wonder why pickles? In picking the pickle, Berrien Springs also chose a legendary fable. The story behind the Christmas pickle goes back to medieval times when two Spanish boys were returning home from boarding school for the Christmas holiday. On the way they met up with an evil inn keeper who trapped them in a pickle barrel and stole their belongings. Legend has it that the two boys were freed by St. Nicholas when he tapped on the barrel with his magical staff. As a result, some German towns are said to celebrate the boys' escape by decorating their Christmas trees with an ornamental pickle. On Christmas morning, whoever finds the pickle is rewarded with either an extra gift or the benefit of being the first to open presents. The production of glass blown ornaments began in 1890's Germany and today they can also be purchased from the Berrien Springs Museum located at the 1839 Courthouse. According to an article by Francis Morlan on mymerrychristmas.com, there is no juice to this pickle legend of the two Spanish boys. Nor does most of Germany recognize the story of the Christmas Pickle.
Berrien Springs doesn't have any real connection with this legend either but that doesn't stop hundreds from turning out twice a year to celebrate during their towns wacky festival.. To them, Picklefest represents all that's kosher about small town life. The celebration offers a little bit for everyone, no matter what your age. For the artistic, there is the pickle costume contests. For aspiring cooks, there is the recipe contest. For the young and aggressive, there are the Pickle Games, ranging from the Pickle Smash to the Pickle Fling. And for the adventurous, there is the pickle tasting, which doesn't seem so crazy until you've tried a half dozen Super Spicy Jalopenopickles or a deep fried chocolate pickle.
"Nearby areas had the other vegetables covered," one time Pickle Fest Chairman Chuck Voytovick is quoted as saying in a Newsweek article. "There wasn't much left for us."
For what it lacks in significance, the choice of pickles couldn't have been better because the pickle loving town of Berrien Springs always has a dill of a time.