Coins appear frequently in folklore, mythology, and superstition, and they feature heavily in legends about relationships.
The old phrase often recited to brides, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue” used to have a final phrase: “and a silver sixpence in her shoe.” It is a custom in Great Britain (as well as other countries) for a father to place a sixpence or other coin into the shoe of a bride. (In Sweden, the bride’s mother puts a gold coin in her other shoe as well.) The coin is said to bring wealth, happiness, and luck. Wales has a slightly different version, in which a coin is put into the cork from the bottle of champagne served to the newly married couple; the cork then serves as a souvenir and good-luck charm. In Derbyshire, girls would put the silver sixpence under their pillows, with a sprig of rosemary, in hopes of dreaming of their future husband.
The “luck of the Irish” extends to coins and relationships, too. The old Irish custom of “luck money” paid to the family of the bride evolved into modern couples exchanging coins along with rings during the wedding ceremony. Some even say that if the coins clink during the exchange, it’s a sure sign that children will be added to the new family quickly. Traditionally, the groom would give his bride a new coin, as a symbol of sharing all of his possessions. The coin would become a family keepsake; when the couple’s eldest son came to be married, the coin would be passed to him as a good luck charm, and he would present his own bride with a new coin.
In Poland, instead of throwing confetti, wedding guests toss coins at the couple; the couple then gathers up all the coins, which is intended to be a bonding experience. Nearby Lithuania adds a coin with the couple’s initials on it: the bridesmaids and groomsmen collect the coins, and whoever ends up with the special coin gets to dance with the bride or groom. It’s said that this tradition sprang up around a poor young couple who were engaged to be married. Since he couldn’t buy a ring, the groom-to-be carved a design into a coin for his bride. Before the wedding could take place, he was sent off to war; for ten years, his fiancee waited for him to return. Return he did, but in the intervening years, the coin had been stolen. When the wedding finally occurred, the village collected coins so that the returning war hero and his bride could afford rings. One of the coins collected was the very same carved coin that had been lost; the ecstatic couple grabbed the villager who had contributed it, and all three began to dance with joy.
An old Roman custom of paying for broken pledges resulted in the Hispanic wedding tradition of giving the bride 13 gold coins, often in an ornate box, as a symbol of the husband’s pledge to care for her. This is called “las arras,” from the Latinate word “arrhae.” (Quite a few of these coin and box sets are posted on Pinterest.)
India has many different cultural practices, as it is a large and diverse nation; one of the most poignant is a tradition known as “vidai,” in which the bride scatters coins behind her as she leaves her parents’ house; the coins are intended as acknowledgement and repayment of all the sacrifices they have made in raising her.
China also uses coins to mark and celebrate relationships, striking coins for engagements, wedding ceremonies, and the actual marriage. The Chinese philosophy of feng shui dictates that shiny coins must be displayed on bright red fabric, to enhance their good fortune.
As indicators of wealth and fortune, coins will always be popular subjects of folklore and superstition. And the next time you hear that little rhyme for the bride, you’ll know how it’s supposed to end!