Sick of Elf on the Shelf? Try the "Christmas Pickle"

Elf on the Shelf. It was cute for a while, but any parent knows that it's a pain in the hoo-ha to hide that sucker every night, and even if you do remember to put it somewhere, your elf scenarios will never live up to the ones on Pinterest.

We have the antidote: the Christmas Pickle.

Apparently, there's an age-old tradition about a Christmas pickle. Get a pickle ornament (yes, these exist) and leave it out for Santa with the milk and cookies. Santa will place the ornament somewhere deep in the reaches of the tree. On Christmas morning, whoever finds it first gets an extra present.

Tammy Dwyer learned this when she was at a dollar store with her son. "He handed me this pickle ornament," she says. "The [attached] card said that it was a German tradition."

Dwyer, who was scheduled to read to her son's kindergarten class, bought a bunch of the foam pickle ornaments for the kids, but when she researched the tradition, could only find vague and conflicting reports of how it had gotten started. One account was of a dying German soldier who asked for a pickle and survived. Another, freaky version suggested that Spanish boys from a boarding school were killed and their remains stuffed in a pickle barrel, but Santa brought them back to life.

(I asked my own sister, who has lived in Germany her whole life. She said "Never heard of it.")

On the day of the kindergarten reading, Dwyer winged it and made up a story, but "when the kids all opened their pickles, literally, they were jumping around. That was two years ago." After seeing the pickle-induced joy on kids' faces, she refined her story and looked into turning it into a book.

Dwyer grew up in Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale, and left for Boston College after graduating from Fort Lauderdale High in 1995. She met her husband on the last day of college and followed him to Pennsylvania where he was on track to become a hand surgeon. She eventually opened two childcare centers. Her parents still live in Rio Vista.

For the book, Dwyer says, "The plot that I came up with is that there's a Pickle Elf -- a mischievous elf in Santa's workshop who doesn't work, doesn't want to make toys." The elf picks his next assignment out of a wish bucket. A boy named Joseph -- the name of her own son, one of her three children -- wishes for a truck. Pickle Elf complains "This will take me all day to make!"

Of course, Santa steps in to set him straight and the elf learns the joy and magic of giving. In the book, Mrs. Claus explains that there's "no sneaking or peeking -- kids have to wait for their families to wake up to start searching on Christmas morning," Dwyer says.

She worked with a children's editor to perfect the 600-word story and then with a company called Bookigee that helped her do a market study and see if it were feasible as a product. They said she could either pitch the idea to a publisher, which would pay her for the idea and then develop in in-house, or try to manufacture, distribute and sell it herself.

Dwyer had a vision of how the elf would look and was nervous about ceding control, so at the behest of her husband, she chose the more difficult latter route.

She hired illustrator Tom Newsom to create drawings and a Mexican artist named Edaurdo Paj to digitally paint them. They designed a plastic -- or polyresin -- pickle (better than the foam one she'd bought, which one of her kids bit.)

The endeavor cost "more than $50,000" to get off the ground, she says, and came with its share of challenges. "There are 3,000" units somewhere on the Pacific Ocean" which were supposed to arrive by ship in August but were held up by customs in China, where they were produced.

"On November 11, we had to airship in 1,000 from China," Dwyer says.

That put her behind in approaching retailers, so the pickle packs are being sold only at her local stores and online at Dwyer and some helpers pack and label them from an unused room in her daycare. They retail for $29.99 and shipping is free.

Dwyer says they've sold about 1,000 so far and are having another 1,000 shipped by air.

It's been an adventure. "One woman is saying her child is sleeping with the pickle," Dwyer reports. And "This year, I'm going into a second grade classroom, and I'm reading my own book this time."


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