Did you make your lucky Lemon Pig on New Year’s? You didn’t!? No luck for you from this ancient tradition…
I got sucked into the #LemonPig craze this year out of shear Internet peer pressure. Honestly, they’re cute, and I just happened to have two lemons lying around that were slowly calcifying in my crisper anyway so…
Where did the Citrusy Swine come from exactly? I had to do a little digging, that led me to both a series of tweets from just before 2018 and this video of Jacques Pepin making one. IDK who he is either, but he makes lemon pigs. The jackpot was an Atlas Obscura article that tracks the resurgence of the pig every 50 years or so. Which isn’t entirely accurate.
Atlas Obscura tracked the first recorded mention of the Lemon Pig to an 1882 article in Ballou’s Monthly Magazine, Volume 55. The article is entitled “Flibbertigibbet’s Journey.” Flibbertigibbet herself recounts going to visit her ailing mother and how her siblings insisted on making gifts for her to take to her mother. The youngest child, Nell, created a Lemon Pig from nothing more than sticks and a lemon. No fancy aluminum tail for her! Still, Flibbertigibbet’s causal mention of this creation alongside other childhood crafts tells us that the Lemon Pig had been around a while before this. How far back can we take the Lemon Pig? My guess would be at least twenty to fifty years before Flibbertigibbet. However, as it’s a biodegradable children’s toy, we might not be able to definitively take it back further.
Atlas Obscura also mentions a January 26th, 1889 article from The Enterprise newspaper detailing how children can make a lemon pig using a lemon, pins for eyes, and matches for feet. So we’re closer to the viral pig of 2018, but still no aluminum tail.
My next find was a 2013 blog article from The Lighter Days where the author reminisces about the Lemon Pigs their mother and grandmother would make to garnish their cold plates at parties. This iteration of the piglet uses matches for feet, cloves for eyes, and carves the ears and tail from the rind of the lemon. It also has a sprig of parsley in its mouth.
Up to this point, however, the Lemon Pig isn’t tied to the New Year or luck. Also, we’re still missing the foil tail and the penny in the mouth. So, where did these details develop?
That can apparently be traced to a 1971 hostess book written by Conny Von Hagen for the Alcoa Aluminon foil company. 401 Party and Holiday Ideas from Alcoa details how to create the perfect New Years Piglet from a lemon, cloves for eyes, toothpicks for legs, and a cute curly tail made out of Alcoa brand aluminum foil. (There are several other aluminum horrors in this book, well worth the nightmares to flip through.) Hagen also seems to be the first mention of putting a penny in the pig’s mouth.
But why? The foil inclusion is obvious, but why the penny?
Well, there’s a little known secret about the year 1971, which connects this lucky penny nibbling pig and its resurgence. 1971 was the Year of the Pig, according to the simplified Chinese Zodiac. I’m not positive if the Chinese celebrated by making Lemon Pigs themselves, but American households unknowingly did in 1971.
So, where’s the connection between Hagen’s book and the New Year in 2018? Well, my friends, that would be Twitter.
On December 31st, 2017, at 10:06 AM, the twitter account 70s Dinner Party (@70s_party) tweeted about their lemony discovery, and Twitter responded.
Happy New Year (via granniepantries) pic.twitter.com/Am7zrKecEk
— 70s Dinner Party (@70s_party) December 31, 2017
In true DIY internet fashion, people responded with everything from Lemon Pigs, to Onion Pigs, to the definitely cursed Banana Pig…
I only have bananas and cocoa nibs; worried I may have doomed us all. pic.twitter.com/pMbaIfI2ud
— Jenny Goodfellow 🇪🇺 🏳️🌈 📷 (@JayGoo) December 31, 2017
More importantly, it started the hashtag #LemonPig, and thus a new New Year Tradition was born.
Thanks to 70s Dinner Party and Conny Von Hagen, we now have our children toy turned lucky New Years Lemon Pig, and frankly, my life has been enriched. Long live the Lucky Lemon Pig!
Jacques Pépin Makes a Lemon Pig | Bon Appétit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apsIU58Tu9Y
Lemon Pigs Are the World’s Newest New Year’s Tradition https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/lemon-pigs-new-year
The enterprise. [volume], January 26, 1898, Image 3 https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84028272/1898-01-26/ed-1/seq-3/#date1=1789&index=1&rows=20&words=COMPLETED+LEMON+PIG&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=&date2=1943&proxtext=%22lemon+pig+completed%22&y=0&x=0&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1
Ballou’s Monthly Magazine, Volume 55 https://books.google.com/books?id=sM8RAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA484&dq=%22lemon+pig%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi2uNiEqLzYAhWrQ98KHQ9fDn04HhDoAQgoMAA#v=onepage&q=%22lemon%20pig%22&f=false
Lemon pigs – long live the 70s: https://thelighterdays.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/lemon-pigs-long-live-the-70s/
Conny Von Hagen. 401 Party and Holiday Ideas from Alcoa. Golden Press, 1971 https://books.google.com/books/about/401_Party_and_Holiday_Ideas_from_Alcoa.html?id=HzFHGQAACAAJ