There are a number of customs relating to hunting during the Christmas season. One of the most curious comes from Venice where the city’s ruler, the Doge, was obliged to go duck hunting every Christmas and to present each member of the Grand Council (essentially every Venetian noble) with 5 birds. This meant that the Doge and his party had to come up with about 12,000 ducks and if he couldn’t kill that many he had to buy them from somewhere. This was proving both expensive and tiresome – each set of five birds had to contain the same proportion of fat and lean fowl, lest it appear that the Doge was showing favour to some nobles more than others.
In 1521 Doge Antonio Grimani found a way around this irksome custom. He replaced the donation of 5 birds with the presentation of a medal, worth a quarter-ducat, instead. This custom of the silver coin called an “Osella” (Venetian slang for “duck”) continued until the fall of the republic in the 1790s. Pictured above is such a medallion with a portrait of the Doge being presented with a banner by St Mark (patron saint of the city) and being blessed by Christ.