Lumps of Coal for Christmas

Aidan Published on Oct 04, 2022

We've all heard of the tradition of naughty children receiving lumps of coal for Christmas, but how did coal become part of the festive rhetoric? Well, it seems that there is no definite origin and many countries have their own story as to why coal has such significance at this time of the year.

The lump of coal tradition predates the Santa that we know today and is associated with many Christmas characters that permeate European cultures, including Befana, St Nicholas and Krampus. However, one thing all these legends have in common is that they enter people's homes via the chimney, which explains why they leave naughty children coal. In case you haven't heard of all these legends, here’s a brief description of some of them.

In Italy, the good witch Befana delivers the children's presents. According to legend, the three wise men visited Befana on their way to the manger. She gave them a place to stay for the night, but when they asked her to go with them, she decided not to go as she had too much housework to do. Befana quickly came to regret her decision so she gathered some gifts for the baby and tried to find him. However, she was unable to.

Befana has been searching for the baby Jesus ever since. She flies around on her broomstick, searching all the houses and leaves gifts for the children. She enters through the chimney and leaves treats for well-behaved children but reaches into the fireplace to give a lump of coal to the naughty children. The coal will remind them to behave better in the next year.

Perhaps the most famous Christmas legend is that of St Nicholas, or Sinterklaas, which has since become Santa Claus. This originates in Turkey, where a poor man had three daughters. He could not afford a dowry for his daughters, and therefore none of them was able to marry. St Nicholas decided to gift the family a bag of gold by dropping it down their chimney so that the oldest daughter could get married. The bag happened to land in a stocking that had been hung by the fire to dry. St Nicholas then repeated this for the poor man's other two daughters.

Word spread, and people began to put stockings up by the fire, hoping they would also receive gifts. The legend has since become Santa Claus, who comes down the chimney, where he can pick up a piece of coal for those undeserving of presents. In some European countries, such as Austria, Croatia and Hungary, St Nicholas is accompanied by Krampus, a half goat half demon. Whilst St Nicholas rewards the good children, Krampus punishes the naughty ones with a lump of coal.

We hope you have been good this year and don’t receive a visit from Krampus!

Have any naughty children of your own? Check out our coal products.