Gold and silver play a part in many Christmas traditions. Of course, gold was presented as a gift to the baby Jesus, but have you heard this story about the origins of Christmas stockings?
According to the ancient tale, the Bishop of Myra, in Turkey, was a wealthy man who gave gold coins to the less fortunate. Being a shy person, he wanted to be as discreet as possible, so he threw a purse of gold coins down the chimney of a poor girl, which landed in a pair of stockings that she’d hung out to dry!
The Bishop was none other than Saint Nicholas. As word spread of his generous deed, others started hanging their stockings by the fireplace. Over time, the practice became popular and today children can’t wait to hang their stockings for the coming of Santa Claus – the modern day Saint Nic!
Here are some more delightful Christmas customs in which gold and silver play a role.
Originating in Great Britain, the discovery of a silver coin in a slice of Christmas pudding was said to provide health, wealth and happiness to the finder. The traditional choice was a silver sixpence, or a threepence.
The practice may have originated from the age-old custom of Twelfth Night Cake which was baked with a bean hidden inside and sometimes topped with a golden crown. Whoever found the bean was crowned Lord of Misrule until midnight!
Plum puddings were traditionally made on the Sunday ‘next before Advent’, which is four to five weeks before Christmas. This special Sunday became widely known as ‘Stir-up Sunday’. We now know about the amazing antimicrobial properties of silver, which makes the addition of an old sixpence to the mix a very wise choice!
Tinsel was originally made in Europe from silver that was hammered paper-thin and then sliced into strips. These strips were attached to a thread with the idea that they emulated icicles of the cold northern winter.
The word tinsel probably derives from estincele, the old French word meaning ‘sparkle’. Before the 16th century, it was used to decorate sculptures, but was later added to Christmas trees to enhance the flickering of candles. More’s the pity, but modern tinsel is generally made of plastic.
During the middle Ages, Advent was a time for churches to display alms boxes into which parishioners could donate silver and other coins. The boxes were opened the day after Christmas – hence the name Boxing Day – when the coins were distributed to the less fortunate.
In Victorian times, servants who were required to work at Christmas took the following day off to visit their families. As they prepared to leave, their employers would present them with Christmas boxes of coins and other gifts.
These days, Boxing Day is a public holiday enjoyed by (almost) all. But did you know it’s also St Stephen’s Day. Its charitable roots are reflected in the popular carol Good King Wenceslas, which tells the story of a Czech king going on a journey in harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant “on the feast of Stephen”.
The custom of giving chocolate coins covered in gold foil to children has been intertwined with Christmas traditions for hundreds of years and can be held to symbolise the gift of gold given by the Three Wise Men. Today they are popular stocking fillers and Christmas tree decorations – and, at this time of year, one of the best-selling items in The Perth Mint Shop!