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What Does it Mean to Get a Lump of Coal in Your Stocking?

Will You Get Coal for Christmas?

Christmas is a holiday filled with tradition. Some traditions, however, can be a bit puzzling.


For instance, most people are familiar with the threat that misbehaving children might find nothing but a lump of coal in their stocking on Christmas morning. How did the odd story of coal as a Christmas gift begin?


The concept of naughty children receiving unwelcome Christmas presents is not strictly an American invention. Other cultures have similar traditions.


Italian children know La Befana, the “Christmas witch,” leaves toys and candy for good children, while bad children get lumps of coal. Misbehaving Dutch and German children are warned of the Krampus, a scary sort of “anti Santa” who leaves coal for Christmas instead of presents.


Traditionally, naughty American children sometimes received stones, sticks or even cold potatoes in their Christmas stockings. The infamous lump of coal became a more well-known disciplinary gift in the early 1900s.


By that time, many households, especially in the city, used coal for heating. It’s easy to imagine Santa snatching a piece of coal from the scuttle and popping it into a child’s stocking on his way up the chimney.


Today, while the fear of Christmas coal has faded, fake coal is sometimes given as a humorous gag gift. Nonetheless, exploring how this humble household item transformed over time and across cultures adds a delightful layer to the Christmas tale.


To find Christmas decorations and gifts for the people on your “good list,” check out everything Christmas Central has to offer!

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