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Chocolate Coins

I was at the grocery store the other day when I happened upon the holiday section. I was perusing the candy selection, looking for some good old fashioned ribbon candy, when I happened upon a small bag of chocolate coins. This got me to thinking: "hey Mark, why do they always put out gold coins at Christmas?"

So I picked up a bag and decided to get some frickin' answers:

chocolate coins christmas

I had always suspected that the chocolate coins had something to do with Hanukkah and this is part of the answer. It turns out that there is a long standing custom of giving chocolate coins at Hanukkah (only they call it Hanukkah gelt) and incorporating these coins with playing dreidel. It's basically how the Jews raise their kids to be bankers.

Now before you say "mystery solved" and proceed onto bigger and more interesting things, it turns out that the Christians have also gotten into the game of giving the coins, only it's not really a Christmas thing so much as it's a St Nicholas thing.

St. Nicholas is a pretty famous saint in both the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Now, were not talking Santa Claus here, we're talking the actual saint. It turns out that instead of making toys and enslaving elves, St Nick was actually a very devout man who lived in Greece and Turkey during the early 4th century.

Unlike the other saints of the day, St Nicholas stands out because he was actually a wealthy guy, having received quite the inheritance. He used this wealth to help out the poor and was rewarded by being made the Bishop of Myra.

So what does this have to do with chocolate coins? Well, St Nicholas is pretty famous for doing a lot of really spectacular things, but one of his most famous acts of charity involves a poor man stuck with three daughters. This was a bad thing back then because, without the money to provide a proper dowry, the women would most likely end up having to choose a less than honorable profession.

St Nicholas learned of the plight and came to their aid by throwing three small sacks of money through their window while they slept. The story sometimes includes the detail that the sacks landed in the womens' shoes...

This is generous act is still celebrated today on St Nicholas day which takes place on December 6th which is supposed to be his birthday. In some countries like The Netherlands, the eve of St Nicholas day is the primary gift giving time, not Christmas and children still place a shoe by the chimney in hopes that Sinterklaas will reward their good behavior.

st nicholas
St Nicholas

Oh, and if you're not good you either receive a tree branch in your shoe, not coal. In the good old days the priest would show up to your door and threaten to beat you if you had been bad. I think that would do a lot of spoiled brats some good.

chocolate coins

So there we have it. If you're Jewish you give chocolate coins to gamble with and if you're Christian, you give them to celebrate the charitable nature of St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.

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