Stockings, stockings everywhere … and suddenly I remembered that old line we used to hear about being good little girls and boys or we’d get lumps of coal in our stockings. As a kid, I never gave it another thought, but as an adult, I’m thinking that was quite a strange way for Santa to incentivize kids to behave.

So how’d that nasty coal rumor get started anyway? I did some checking. Below you’ll see the myriad different versions of this question that apparently receives.

Lump of coal?  Coal in a stocking?  Lump of coal for Christmas?  Who puts coal in your stocking?  Why a lump of coal at Christmas?  Origin of coal in your stocking?  What saying goes with a lump of coal?  Where did coal in a stocking come from?  Where and why the lump of coal at Christmas?  What country did giving a lump of coal start in?  What year did putting coal in the stocking start?  What country started the lump of coal tradition?  Where did the lump of coal in the stocking start?  Why did people get a lump of coal in their stockings?  Why do bad children get a lump of coal in their stocking?

Unfortunately, their versions of the question are longer than their lame answer:

the history of coal in a christmas stocking is nothing more that being left of the toy list as a result of bad behavior. when stockings were being filled the the gift giver reaches down by the fireplace to the bin grabs a hunk or two coal and stuffs the naughty child’s stocking while placing toys in the stockings of those children who have been a joy to their parents.

So I kept digging, and I found out that Santa’s no longer using lumps of coal to encourage good behavior! This is according to a media release by Discovery News from December 2007:


DATE: Christmas Minus 5 Days, 2007

no-more-coal3NORTH POLE – Kris Kringle announced today that he has dropped the centuries-old tradition of stuffing coal into the stockings of naughty boys and girls. The decision comes at a time when record warm temperatures and thinning sea ice are threatening the very existence of Kringle’s North Pole toy-making and distribution center.

“In light of the prominent role of coal burning in global warming, Santa has decided that he can no longer in any way endorse the extraction of coal,” explained Ilbereth, Kringle’s spokes-elf. Poor behavior will not go unpunished, however. “Silicate rocks and organic mulch will be replacing coal in stockings, with the occasional mercury-free rotting sardine and DVD of An Inconvenient Truth for those extraordinarily naughty individuals.”

The final straw which impelled Santa to change the coal tradition this year, in particular, was the receipt by Kringle of several letters from prominent coal and energy lobbyists and top-ranking U.S. government officials. The letters were thanking Santa for depositing coal in their stockings last Christmas.

Nice little marketing plug tying in the Jolly Old Elf, if I do say so myself. But still not really the answer to where the coal story came from in the first place. So I kept digging, and made my way to Yahoo Answers. A thousand times better, in my opinion, than Wiki!

Yahoo had a host of interesting interpretations … some perhaps authentic … and many of them pretty funny:

What does coal in a stocking mean?

Best Answer – Chosen by Asker

by Joe O

It means Santa is saying the price per barrel of oil is too high because of greedy OPEC and you should start making synfuels from coal liquification which will yield oil of around $30 US per barrel.

We’ve got abundant coal in the USA, we need to start converting it into oil to make gasoline, and really send a screw you message to greedy OPEC. But that wouldn’t happen anytime before 2008. Bush is too heavily invested in oil to do something to reduce the cost of oil.

Vote for a change in 2008!!!

Other Answers

by michelle m

That you were bad during the year and Santa will not be visiting you this year

Source(s): Something that was told to me when I was a young child

by Twiggy

It seems the original stocking were hung with care, but by three daughters of a widower….dowries were expected by suitors, so Santa left the sisters a bag of gold for each in their stockings. We all wanted gold so we began hanging stockings, alas it was a tradition born. Perhaps Santa in his right mind decided to leave coal, from which inside is a diamond, not to say good or bad, but to say sadly that with hard work a piece of coal will wrought a diamond.I mean really the season of peace and joy is magical, not judgmental of ones behavior, and maybe not only believing, but seeing is the delight we were meant to receive.

Source(s): Christmas traditions and of course the heart.

by LostMyMi…

The tradition of a lump of coal in the stockings of naughty children comes from Italy.

by wiley426…

no one in the entire world likes you and when you get to the top of the building you should just do the right thing and jump…

by sicktrol…

maybe a fire was built and santa didnt expect it late.. So he became ashes… And all is left is coal in the fireplace. So a stocking is hung in memory of him…with remind the family of the fateful night.

by Jacob G

Santa went out of his way to tell you(person that got coal) that your on the naughty list, for shame! Be a good little boy/girl next year!


by R A

It means you reach into your stocking to get a toy and you get all black and sooty and realize that even Santa doesn’t like you….so it’s time to either be good or choose a new religion. (It’s bad when even Santa doesn’t like you)

Source(s): I know Mr. Claus personally

by Davve

It means Santa is a Hoosier. Did you know there’s enough coal in Indiana to fuel the country for 250 years?

Source(s): Center for Coal Technology Research, Purdue University.

by bttrfly0…

The tradition of a lump of coal in the stockings of naughty children comes from Italy. Saint Nicholas was famed for performing niceties and miracles for the innocent, poor, and needy. So only when one is “nice” (or justified) does one receive goodies/treats in his stocking. What use did a child have for coal?

by Fraggle

It means you have a cold heart and hopefully the coal will warm it up.

by Fuzzy B

It means that the grill wouldn’t fit…

by Rich H

It means that daddy was working so hard in the coal mine, that he didn’t even have time to do last minute christmas shopping.

by Zak

it mean’s you’re either a.) russian and a poor s.o.b. or b.) a poor s.o.b. because neither of you can afford to heat your homes and good ol’ saint nick stepped in like a welfare officer and maybe you won’t freeze and die this winter.

why do I say russian? because these are the only tools that still try to barter and make a deal even in retail stores. both cheap & poor.

Source(s): santa & i’m american, everyone knows about stupid russians

by Michael B

You’ve been naughty, not nice. Hopefully, you had more fun being naughty

by macsinn2…

No source for this but I bet it’s true… When homes were heated with open grate coal fires (I know–yuck) some folks could afford only coal — not toys or nice dinners etc. and so they put coal in their kid’s stockings…probably the only fun the kid had on Christmas Day was putting the coal on the fire and having a marginally warmer room. Not too much fun for the poor kids and they were probably made fun of for it. Perhaps the wealthier children’s parents (who could afford a nicer Santa Clause) told their children that you got coal in your stocking if you were naughty to make them behave, not realizing that their lie might spark a new tradition… 🙂

Carbone Dolce candy

However, the answer that appears closest to accurate is this:

In Italy, there is a rock candy called “Carbone Dolce,” which looks like coal and is often slipped into Christmas stockings as a joke.

Willy M, blogging from Italy, shares his story of coming across the real candy after a childhood during which he actually did receive a lump of coal every year, just as a reminder to be good again next year.

What a crazy, wonderful tradition Christmas stockings are!