Holiday Coin Traditions

 

 

We’ve already talked about some of the history of chocolate coins at Christmas, but what about other holiday coin traditions?

 

800px-Gentile_da_Fabriano_063.jpgIn 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.

 

1280px-Trutovsky_Kolyadki.jpgMany 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!

 

Silver Sixpence and Other Love Coin Traditions

Coins appear frequently in folklore, mythology, and superstition, and they feature heavily in legends about relationships.

 

img_4241The 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.

 

 

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19th century English love token coin. Photo credit: Woody1778a on Flickr, used under CC by SA 2.0.

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.)
wedding-1404620_960_720India 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!

Straight From the Horse’s Mouth

The English language can be confusing.  Certainly, many of our idioms have fallen behind the times.  Hold the phones – What phones?  Don’t have a cow! – Surely, I’ll pass.  Where did these phrases come from and why have they stuck around despite their falling out with modern technology and culture?

On my morning walk I heard someone mention that they had “heard it straight from the horse’s mouth”.  Well, unless his horse is Mr. Ed, it seems quite unlikely that the man and his horse had a chat over breakfast and coffee.  Who’s to say the horse’s information would even be slightly reliable; or more reliable than say, hearing something straight from a person’s mouth?

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The phrase “straight from the horse’s mouth” has become an idiom.  An idiom is a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words.  What meaning do we deduct from this word cluster?

We take the phrase “straight from the horse’s mouth” to mean getting information from an authoritative or credible source.  It might seemingly indicate that horses know best, however the phrase has an unexpected origin.

One possible origin comes from buying and selling horses back before the invention of the automobile.  As a means of labor and transportation, horses were very valuable in American civilization.  When buying a horse it was very important to obtain information about the animal’s health history and extenuating attributes, similarly to the way someone today would want to know the details about a car for purchase.  Apparently an excellent way to gage a horse’s age is by looking at its teeth, literally getting the facts straight from the horse’s mouth despite seller chicanery.  In one of my personal favorites, ‘Fiddler on the Roof”, Tevye discloses to a man that the allegedly six year old horse he was sold actually turned out to be twelve.  “It was twelve!  It was tweeeelve!” he shouts during the iconic opening scenes as the town sings of “traditions, traditions“!

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Another possible origin relates to horse racing.  When betting on a horse, gamblers would put their money behind someone “in the know” who possessed that golden tidbit of information.  How’d they bet on the winning horse?  Why, they heard it straight from the horse’s mouth!  The people who you’d imagine have the best conjectures about which horse might win are the trainers and stable boys.  So, to say that it was heard straight from the horse’s mouth humorously suggests that someone is a step ahead of even the inner circle of stable boys, hearing it from the horse himself.

Though you’d never guess that’s where a phrase we use all the time and understand the meaning of comes from, it seems to have stuck through the decades.  Though most of us don’t go around checking horses’ mouths to see if they’re a good purchase or spend our Sunday afternoons at the race track, you can be sure to trust it if you heard it from the horse’s mouth!

Hidden Symbolism in Victorian Jewelry

No one loves symbolism like the Victorians loved symbolism.

 

 

In an age of complex manners and rules, Victorians used symbolism to speak a secret language.

Especially when it came to courting, jewelry held its own hidden messages. Men went through complicated processes to court women, closely guarded by their parents and chaperones, and jewelry conveyed more heartfelt messages than he was able to communicate in person.

Queen Victoria, the fashionable queen with more than a little influence on Victorian style, received an engagement ring from Prince Albert in the form of a snake, the symbol of eternity.

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The star symbolizes spirit and guidance in this Victorian star, moon, diamond and pearl necklace.

Sometimes it takes serious contemplation before figuring out the meaning behind a piece of Victorian jewelry.

There are plenty of complex symbols. Jewelry with different types of stones spell out a message as an acronym of the stones’ first letters. For instance, if a ring has a ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, another ruby, and a diamond, it spells out “REGARD”. This is one of the most common words in acronym jewelry, and carries a meaning like “with my regards” or “I highly regard you”.

And that’s just the start of the hidden meanings. Symbols abound in Victorian pieces. For instance, if a couple was on their honeymoon, the bride would wear a pin with a crescent moon and flowers. The flowers represented the nectar, or “honey” part of the word “honeymoon”.

290px-Victorian_WomanSome other symbols in Victorian jewelry:
Pearls – Tears
Forget-Me-Nots – Remembrance
Doves – Domesticity
Crowned Heart – Love Triumphant
Butterfly – Soul
Clasped Hands – Friendship, Lasting Love

Do you have any jewelry with hidden symbols? Go here for a comprehensive list of symbol meaning in jewelry, and tell us if you find anything!