The legend that Santa leaves lumps of black coal for misbehaved children is a well-known story all around the world. If you haven’t given it much thought, you probably assumed it was simply a genius way for parents to persuade their kids to behave on the run-up to Christmas. However, the story actually predates the modern St. Nick and varies between different cultures.
Some countries have their own version of Santa. The western hemisphere has St. Nicholas, Italy has La Befana and The Netherlands has Sinterklass. Each version of Santa is similar as they all come down the chimney and leave gifts for well-behaved children. The association with the fireplace and filling shoes or stockings with presents is something that most stories have in common.
However, if the child behaved badly that year, they wouldn’t deserve a present and would be left with a lump of coal instead. This would encourage them to clean up their act on time for next Christmas to avoid getting any more lumps of coal in their stockings.
Santa around the Globe
In Sicily, they believe in a magic witch called La Befana. She leaves presents for good children on Christmas Eve. It’s believed that she was alive back when Jesus was born. On the night of his birth, she saw the bright star in the sky and collected toys to give to the baby Jesus. However, she couldn’t find the right stable and continues her search each year, leaving presents for good children and open fire coal for the badly-behaved ones.
Many people believe the lump of coal legend began in the 19th century in England. Most home furnaces were powered by coal and it wasn’t unusual to keep a pan of hot coals under the bed at night. This would help warm up the room on cold winter nights. Rich families would be able to afford toys for their children but poor people would get coal. This was punishment for their family’s bad deeds and people believed that God had made them poor and the coal represented this belief.
The most common tale is the one about a nobleman who needed money so his three daughters could get married and start their lives with their new husbands. But he was poor and had no money. St. Nicholas visited his home and put money in stockings that hung out to dry by the fireplace. After news spread about this miracle, everyone left stockings out for Saint Nicholas. When he visited, he would give them gifts but when he visited houses belonging to bad people, he would leave lumps of coal in their stockings.
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