Why Coal

Téa Schmid, Design Editor

The legend of the jolly old man who brings presents every Christmas Eve has been around for centuries. There are many pieces of this story that everybody knows -— Santa wears a red coat, he drives a sleigh led by magic flying reindeer, he knows if you’re naughty and nice, and if you’re naughty, you get coal. But where did the “gift” of coal even come from?

There is no distinct time period when people started believing this part of the story, but it is believed to have come from the Italian version of Santa, “la Befana,” who was a witch that would bring presents to good children and leave lumps of coal for bad children. The coal would come from the fireplace of the naughty children’s family as a reminder to be better next year. The Netherlands’ version of Santa followed a similar tale.

England’s “Father Christmas” had a different twist to the coal origin. Father Christmas would give the rich children candy, toys, and other gifts one would expect for Christmas. The poor children, however, would be given coal as a punishment for their family’s bad choices-— the choices that landed them in poverty.

While there is no exact date to when this idea was added to the story, it popped up around the 20th century, when it was popular to burn coal in a fireplace as opposed to wood. Many believe that this is why Santa (or a version of Santa) would leave coal—— he wasn’t going to lug around any kind of gift for naughty children. He could simply reach into the fireplace and take a lump of coal and slip it in a stocking.

Bothell, unless you’re yearning for a heaping helping of our favorite retro fossil fuel this holiday season, it’s time to clean up your act.