Gelt and Geld: December Holiday Chocolate Coin Traditions | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Gelt and Geld: December Holiday Chocolate Coin Traditions

Gelt and Geld: December Holiday Chocolate Coin Traditions

Two winter holidays are celebrated with chocolate candies

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Gold foil-covered chocolate coins celebrating the amazing events of Chanukah may explain the Christmas season’s commemoration of the miracles of St. Nicholas with similar chocolate coins. Or, is it the other way around?

These Christian and Jewish golden coin stories originate from the Mediterranean area, are centuries old, recount sagas of courage and liberation, and generate a love of chocolate. Jewish and Christian chocolate customs melt together in December.

Chanukah Chocolate Coins

Chanukah recalls the victory of the ancient Maccabees over their Syrian Hellenist oppressors and renewed access by the Jews to their ancient Temple in Jerusalem (165 BCE) after its desecration.

The “gelt” (coins) of Chanukah symbolize the booty, including coins, that the Maccabean victors distributed to the Jewish widows, soldiers, and orphans, possibly at the first celebration of the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple. The victory represented freedom of religious practice; striking coins symbolized political independence.

Not surprisingly, coins came to be part of the home Chanukah festivities. At some point Chanukah currency evolved into chocolate.


St. Nicholas Chocolate Coins

The accounts of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sweets, note his journey to reward children with gold-covered chocolate coins. The festival associated with his birthday, December 6, 270 (approximately), has been relished in Western Europe since the thirteenth century. One of the several St. Nicholas Golden Legend miracle stories, written in 1275 by Jacobus de Voragine, archbishop of Genoa, records that Nicholas tossed bags of gold coins to an impoverished father to provide his daughters with dowries, saving them from lives of prostitution.

Rituals related to the celebration of the feast day of St. Nicholas in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States use gold-covered chocolate, geld.

Youngsters collect chocolate coins from their shoes on the morning of December 6, following the previous night’s visit by St. Nicholas.

While Christians enjoy glinty geld for St. Nick’s, Jews celebrate Chanukah with chocolate coins for Chanukah, sweetly bringing together these December holidays.

Also: Guilt-Free Chanukah Gelt

Selecting fair trade chocolate meshes with Chanukah’s spiritual messages about freedom and fairness. A prayer by Rabbi Menachem Creditor, “Eating [Fair Trade] Chanukah Gelt,” recognizes the potency of chocolate with Chanukah’s theme of enlightening the world’s dark places, an important spin on good gelt for Chanukah, especially for children. Guilt-free Chanukah gelt may be purchased from the project of Divine Chocolate, Fair Trade Judaica and T’ruah.

Rabbi Deborah Prinz is the author of On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao (2nd Edition, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2017). She co-curated the exhibit “Semi[te] Sweet: On Jews and Chocolate,” on view at the Bernard Museum of Temple Emanu-el in New York City through February of 2018.

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