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Luck Money

All around the world there are customs and traditions associating money with good luck and good fortune.

To celebrate Chinese new year ‘luck money’ is handed out by adults in traditional red envelopes to unmarried juniors – the Hongbao (red packets of ‘luck money’) must be new and clean and only in even numbers as odd numbers are associated with cash given during funerals.

In Greece there is a custom which involves cutting the ‘Vasilopita’ or New Year Cake which contains a single coin. The person who receives the slice with the coin of ‘luck money’ is guaranteed good fortune. Similar of course to our custom of putting silver sixpences (now replaced by five pence coins of course) into Christmas puddings.

At Irish weddings it is customary for the groom to ‘buy’ his bride from her family by presenting them with ‘luck money’ to ensure happiness and good fortune for their marriage.

The ‘first footing’ tradition on New Years Eve originated in Scotland but has now headed south. As soon as midnight has passed a dark haired person should arrive and knock on the door carrying a piece of coal (to guarantee warmth), some bread (to symbolise that nobody will go hungry), a piece of greenery (for long life) and some ‘luck money’ to ensure wealth and good fortune.

“Cross my palm with silver” is a well-established saying for fortune-tellers, whilst ‘luck money’ in the form of new coins should be presented to a newborn child.

Who has repeated the rhyme “see a penny pick it up, all day long you’ll get good luck” when finding a coin on the floor?

In various parts of the country there is a tradition of hammering or pushing coins into the bark of a tree, and various example of this ‘luck money’ can be found in the Peak District, especially by the side of the path in Dove Dale. Sometimes the trees appear to have become more metal than bark as the ‘luck money’ coins which are bent over, flattened and twisted glisten in the daylight. This strange custom is supposed to signify that money can grow on trees!

Strangest of all though is the tradition of ‘luck money’ as part of a deal when purchasing something. This ‘luck money’ custom has been around for centuries and is still normal practice amongst Romany’s, gypsies and tinkers as well as farmers and country folk in the north of the country, especially at cattle markets and livestock fairs.

After the formalities of a purchase have been negotiated the deal is clinched or agreed by the shaking of hands. The buyer hands over the payment and is given back ‘luck money’ in return to ensure good luck for the animal or object of the deal. For example, it might be agreed that an animal be sold for £100 and a payment of that amount is handed over to the vendor. However, the vendor hands back a smaller amount as ‘luck money’ to the purchaser.

In effect this could be a handy little tax dodge if say a cheque was handed over for the £100 but the purchaser was given back a cash refund and the only account reference was the cheque. Unsurprisingly in 1965 the custom of ‘luck money’ at cattle markets was raised in Parliament when the then Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked whether he would issue instructions to the Inland Revenue to investigate the payment at cattle markets with a view to securing tax returns on the income resulting from this practice!

Spitting into your hand is also thought by some to be an invitation to good luck around the world – not necessarily adopted by everyone of course - and it is not unusual to see a deal being done by a spitting onto and shaking of hands!

If you want to see examples of the ancient custom of ‘luck money’, then pay a visit to Bakewell Cattle Market which is held most Mondays at the Bakewell Agricultural Centre and watch the farmers and auctioneers when the animals have been sold. There is bound to be a bit of ‘luck money’ and spit flying around as its part of country life around here and what makes the Peak District and Derbyshire special!