The history of coins at Christmas
Did you know that traditionally, finding a sixpence in your slice of Christmas pudding is a symbol of wealth and prosperity for the coming year? Here at Hattons of London, we believe that coins can play a bigger role in the festivities, and we want to make sure the historical connection isn’t lost.
Here’s some little-known trivia about numismatics during Noel.
Sixpence in the pudding
Have you ever taken a bite of Christmas pudding and chomped into a coin? Wondered where this tradition comes from?
Historically, Christmas pudding was made on ‘Stir Up Sunday’, the last Sunday before Advent. A combined family effort, each person took a turn at stirring from east to west in honour of the Three Wise Men who visited Jesus when he was born. While stirring, it was customary to make a wish and a silver sixpence was then folded into the pudding mixture.
On Christmas Day, whoever found the coin in their slice of pudding was said to enjoy wealth and good fortune in the coming year.
This tradition is thought to have been brought to Britain from Germany by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband – and is still a big part of festivities for families. Nowadays, people tend to use circulation silver-coloured coins such as five or ten pence pieces.
Boxing Day’s coin-inspired past
Boxing Day is best known for people spending their hard-earned coins on post-Christmas sales, but its origins lie not too far from our coin collecting past. The term “Boxing Day” dates back to the 1830s and was a holiday where tradesmen, errand boys and servants received a Christmas box from their masters.
The annual token of gratuity for good service used to contain a wide variety of presents, including leftover food from the Christmas dinner and a gift from the family. Most boxes would also include coins that these tradesmen and servants would take home to their families – a symbol of the work away from home during the year.
The Christmas tradition of giving vendors a cash gift at Christmas prevails, and even though this is now not given on Boxing Day, the origins of giving coins at Christmas are thought to start on the 26th December.
Many people believe Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the glimmering net of chocolate coins at the bottom of your stocking. Inspired by the deeds of Saint Nicholas in the fourth century, who provided three women with small bags of gold coins to pay for their dowries, the chocolate coin has become a symbolic festive offering (and Secret Santa favourite!).
Introduced to Europe in the sixteenth century, millions of chocolate coins are consumed in the UK every Christmas. Many mimic legitimate currencies and commemorative sovereigns, and are where many budding numismatists discovered their passion.
The chocolate coin striking process is not too dissimilar to that of circulation coins – chocolate blanks are struck from the sheet chocolate and markings are imprinted with an equivalent coin die to create unique designs.
Many a taste test has been conducted to determine the best chocolate coin and it seems the jury is out! In any case, these delicious gold morsels are here to stay.
“Please put a penny in the old man’s hat”
This much-loved Christmas nursery rhyme’s origins are debated, but the general consensus is that Edith Nesbit, author of The Railway Children and Five Children and It, first immortalised the lyrics.
“Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat,
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat…”
Writing from the end of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth, Edith Nesbit’s verse paints a festive picture of generosity, coins and supporting more vulnerable members of a community.
Here at Hattons of London, we’ve had our own charitable Christmas – on 20th December, we held a fundraising day for Dougie Mac Hospice. The only adult hospice in North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent that provides care and support for people with life-limiting illnesses, our festive fundraising was all about giving back to our local community.
If you’d like to hear more about Hattons of London’s range of new strike and heritage coins, our team of numismatic experts will be on holiday until 2nd January 2020, and we look forward to hearing from you in the new year!
Now, here’s to continuing a very coin-filled Christmas.