There are a lot of holiday traditions that revolve around chocolate. We have the wonderfully strange tale of a chocolate egg delivering Easter Bunny, a box of hearts for loved ones during Valentines day, and handing out candy to little ones dressed in costumes for Halloween.
And of course, there is Christmas — one of the chocolatey-est holidays of them all.
Chocolate seems to appear from nowhere at Christmas. There are literally plates and boxes of it almost everywhere you look.
Every family has its own things and one of the fun traditions that some families have is to hand out chocolate coins to children at Christmas. It can be fun to look a little closer at where these chocolate traditions have come from, even if they’ve changed over the years.
For example, have you ever thought deeply about chocolate coins? Chocolate coins are a natural part of Christmas for many people, but not many stop to consider why we even have them in the first place.
Giving children chocolate coins around the holidays is a tradition that started in the 1500s, shortly after the chocolate was introduced to Europe. Before then, chocolate was a treasure of South and Central America, and didn’t have the sweetness that we all know and love today. And at first, it was only available to royalty, or at least those with a lot of wealth at that time.
The Tradition of Giving Chocolate Coins
Legend has it the tradition of giving chocolate coins was inspired by the deeds of Saint Nicholas in the fourth or 5th century. The legend of St Nicholas himself may actually be traced back to Turkey or Greece many hundreds of years ago. St Nicholas is often portrayed as a Bishop who was especially kind to children.
It is said that Saint Nicholas was something of a shy man, and would go around to parishioner’s houses at Christmas and drop coins down the chimney or through windows and into the stockings for the little children inside the homes. Sound familiar? This is how the tradition of giving gifts and presents at Christmas began, and the legend of ol Saint Nick.
Saint Nicholas Day
Chocolate coins are also a traditional part of Saint Nicholas Day or the Feast of Saint Nicholas, which is celebrated on December 6th in western countries and December 19th in eastern countries.
A Christian holiday and festival in Europe, especially in Germany and Poland, Saint Nicholas Day is often marketed by the whole family attending Mass. The holy celebrations focus on Saint Nicholas’ reputation as a generous bringer of gifts. Chocolate coins stand-in for these gifts and are still given out as a fun and festive way for everyone to partake. Of course, things are different depending on where you are in the world. In the Netherlands, St Nicholas is known as Sinterklaas and visits little children on the evening of 5th December.
Back here in the United States, Saint Nicholas Day isn’t recognized like it is in Europe. However, in some cities across the country with a heavy German influence and history of German immigration, children are taught to celebrate the day by putting their shoes by the fireplace or the front door on the night of December 5th to find them full of chocolate coins or other treats on December 6th.
If you didn’t already celebrate this sweet tradition, maybe it’s time to start!
Time to Celebrate Sweet Tradition
Chocolate coins are not just for those celebrating Christmas. The Jewish tradition of giving Hanukkah gelt, which translates to Hanukkah money, began in the 17th century and it is still going strong. Jewish parents give gelt to children to play dreidel.
In the 1920s American chocolatiers, ever the industrious capitalists picked up on the chocolate coin/gelt idea and began producing them in the form we know today — individually wrapped in shiny foil — and began to create large quantities for widespread distribution.
Going back just a little earlier in time to late-Victorian Britain, farthing coins were used to wrap chocolate inside. Another connection is that Christmas trees used to be traditionally decorated with chocolate coins although hopefully not placed too close to the fire, or the candles that were placed in the trees (fire hazard safety was not widely practiced until much later).
Coins would be either gold or silver with milk chocolate being the usual filling inside. People didn’t develop their love for dark chocolate until recently, and besides children tend to love the sweetness of milk chocolate. Chocolate coins today often come in plastic mesh bags and can be ordered in bulk. There are both gelt and Chocolate coins widely available across the country and are available year-round but especially during the holidays.
They are a great treat especially for young ones because there is something so satisfying to take the time to unwrap them. It’s always nice to have the anticipation build a little! Especially when it comes to stocking stuffers, chocolate coins are an expected treat.
We love hearing about other holiday chocolate traditions. There are so many around the world, each defining a culture that dates back many generations or a smaller family tradition that is only a few years old.
Whether it’s making chocolates from scratch, hiding them, or handing them out to family and friends, chocolates have found firm footing in the world today. Something that we are grateful for! We hope you enjoy dreaming of the chocolate holidays to come and feel free to share with us any special chocolate traditions that you have. If you are looking for chocolate coins for celebrating, there are different online chocolate stores.