Category Archives: Sand Dollars

Types of sand dollars, pictures and information pertaining to sand dollars.

Christmas and The Legend of the Sand Dollar

sand dollar and dove
Sea Cookie with "Dove"

The Legend of the Sand Dollar poem and the Christmas season both have Jesus in common. There are a few varieties of sand dollar and the legend seems to have been written about one in particular – the keyhole sand dollar as it references the holes in it. I don’t have one, so I’ve added my picture of a sea cookie, which is a small, puffy sand dollar.

The Keyhole sand dollar has 5 holes in it where the author (who is unknown) of the poem writes: “.. four nail holes and a fifth one made by a Roman’s spear”, speaking of the death of Jesus on the Cross. The sea cookie, sea biscuit and arrowhead (three I have) don’t have all those holes. But they do contain the “doves” inside which fits with this part of the poem: “Now break the center open and here you will release the five white doves awaiting to spread good will and peace.”

The five doves are actually the jaws or teeth of the sand dollar, but they actually do look a lot like doves.

The Legend also describes a “star” on one side and a Christmas poinsettia on the other. The star shape is easy to find on the top of all sand dollars and I don’t have a picture of the underside of the Keyhole type, but here you can see the bottom of my Arrowhead.

bottom of sand dollar
Bottom of the Arrowhead Sand Dollar
White Sand Dollars
Arrowhead, Sea Biscuit and Sea Cookie

It’s not difficult to find the “Legend of the Sand Dollar” online, but they are not all the same. This one at Poetry Place is worded quite differently than the one at Quality Shells, but the message is still the same – a reminder of the birth (star) and death (holes) of Jesus and the doves that will fly off to spread Peace.


Making Seashell Garland

Close Up Detail of the Blue Ocean Themed Chris...
Image by Mastery of Maps via Flickr

Christmas in the tropics means decorating with seashells of course! And you don’t have to live in a warm climate to have a themed Christmas tree either. When I lived in central Florida, lots of crafty people would have their seashell ornaments ready to sell at the local craft fairs  and shops in the Fall months. We have a painted sand dollar with a music attachment (that no longer works) that was purchased many years ago. I haven’t dug it out this year or I’d add a photo.

Among the coastal Christmas ornaments, painted sand dollars are very popular because of their flat surface, but drilling holes in shells for hanging or incorporating their shapes into angels and other holiday images. Painted, glittered and decorated shells of all types abound for your tree trimming pleasure, whether you buy them already made or opt to do it yourself.

Personally I prefer the unaltered state of the shells since they are beautiful works of nature and don’t need glitter and ribbons to make them pretty, in my opinion. That way the decorations or garland can be used year round. I’ve found that many shells and pieces of shells have ready-made holes in them and are perfect for stringing or hanging on a decorative wire or ribbon. Making a garland of shells is a bit more work, but can be very impressive and you can make one without using a drill.

The arrowhead sand dollars have many holes in them naturally and ribbon or twine can be tied to them without harming their natural appearance. In fact, you can also wrap starfish (sea stars) and many other shells and make a natural string of shells for adding to your Christmas tree or to use for decorating a porch or other area.

Pam, at the “i love shelling” blog has photos of her sand dollar and starfish garland and she also tempts us with her “sand dollar cookies” on the same page. She is lucky enough to live at the beach so finding shells to use to decorate is not a problem. For the rest of us I have included some helpful links below for buying shells and sea shell decorations.
Merry Tropical Christmas!  or as Pam says “Shellebrate the Season!”


Types of Sand Dollars

Because I have a few big sand dollars myself, I will include pictures of the ones in my collection to highlight the different types of sand dollars you may find while beach-combing.

I have three whole sand dollars, although the little one is slightly broken.  We may call them shells, but they are not.  They are ‘tests’ and are really the outer skeletons of the creature who made them.  They are really echinoderms,  like the sea urchin, sea cucumber and sea star (starfish).  And they don’t start off white.  Once the animal dies, the sand wears off their fuzzy outer coating, and the sun bleaches them.  In life, they are colorful and can be green, purple, or brown.

sand dollar

In my photo here on the left, is the large, four inch arrowhead.  It is flat and has a series of lines on the backside. I can hear the “jaws” rattling around inside.  Those jaws are what move to digest the sand dollar’s food.

There are different types of sand dollars. The keyhole sand dollar is similar to the arrowhead, but has five small holes. The notched sand dollar has holes along the edge as you can see from the image below taken from Wikimedia.

The holes are used in part for helping the creature sink into the sand, where it lives and feeds.

Encope emarginata (Leske, 1778) derivate 2013
In my photo below you can see my arrowhead with the large ‘inflated sea biscuit‘ and small ‘sea cookie‘.  Those are puffy and bloated looking compared to the other types. They are covered with dark brown fuzz when alive. I wrote ‘Sanibel 1990’ on the bottom of this big one.  I didn’t find it along the beach, but purchased it at a shop when I was on Sanibel Island on vacation back in the 80’s.

My Sand Dollars

The little sea cookie is very fragile, and is broken as you can see.  Sand dollars are delicate and will break easier than most shells.  If you find a whole one on the beach, wrap it in something to carefully bring it home to clean.

While I was moving these shells around to take these pictures, one of the doves (jaws), fell out of the sea cookie.  It is pictured below.

sea cookie sand dollar
Sea Cookie and it’s “Dove”