We’ve already talked about some of the history of chocolate coins at Christmas, but what about other holiday coin traditions?
In the original St. Nicholas myth, Nicholas learned of a local family who were extremely poor, but would not accept charity. (In some versions, the family had only daughters, who would be forced to work the streets since the family could not afford dowries for marriage.) Nicholas, a pious and generous man, climbed up on the roof of the family’s home and dropped gold coins down the chimney and into socks that were drying by the fire. Coins were the first “stocking stuffers” as the practice of leaving socks (or shoes) out for St. Nicholas spread around the world.
In many traditions, a coin is slipped into a dessert, pudding, or bread. In the UK, Stir-Up Sunday occurs on the last Sunday before Advent. While the name actually comes from the prayer used in Church of England parishes on that day (which begins with “Stir up, O Lord,”) the day has now become associated with the “stirring up” of Christmas puddings. A coin is dropped into the batter, and each family member gives the mix a stir while wishing on the coin (sneaky parents may use this as a way to find out what their children want for Christmas!) The pudding is stored until Christmas Day; whoever gets the sixpence in the pudding is said to receive good luck during the upcoming year.
Many Eastern European countries celebrate a holiday called Koliada as well as Christmas. Koliada is a time when children go caroling at neighborhood houses, and are rewarded with coins and other small gifts. In Macedonia and Greece, a coin is baked into the Vasilopita cake, which is named in honor of St. Basil, whose celebration is on January 1. Finding the coin brings luck to the one who discovers it, much like the British tradition mentioned above.
During the days of Hanukkah, chocolate coins (though real coins are still used in some communities) are given as “gelt.” The tradition originally called for giving coins to teachers and to workers who might be overlooked the rest of the year, but are now mostly given to children.
Some families hide a pickle ornament on their tree, with a coin or other gift as the reward for finding it.
Whatever your holiday traditions, we wish you a happy holiday season!