Why Santa gives coal to bad kids

He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice! Only twelve days until Santa makes his arrival kids, and we don’t know about you, but we are giddy with excitement! So, we thought it was a good time to look at some of the history and backstory of Saint Nick, and figure out how to get our hands on those presents we so desperately want. We know, of course, that we have to be good or Santa won’t come – but what if we are bad?

Well, we know that if we’re naughty, Santa won’t come bring us gifts. In fact, history tells us that he brings a lump of coal for naughty children. But where does this come from? And why is it a lump of coal, why not nothing? You would think he’d be making a bigger point by just refusing to give those children anything at all. So, let’s look a little closer at where this coal idea comes from.


Well, in fact, the practice of giving lumps of coal to naughty children actually predates Santa as we know him. In fact, this is something that can be traced back to La Befana in Italy – an old woman who traditionally delivers presents to children throughout the country on Epiphany Eve. There is no specific legend about the giving of coal, but, in both cases, it seems to be a matter of convenience. Let’s look at what we know about these characters.

Leaving gifts

Both of them are known for leaving gifts, and each of them comes down the fireplace, before filling stockings with presents, slipping gifts into shoes left by the fireplace, and filling the tree. So, we can infer that, with the naughty children, Befana, or Santa, simply picked a lump of coal from the fireplace and used it in place of an actual gift. This sends a message to them to buck their ideas up and be better next year.

So why not nothing?

Again, we might be tempted to ask, why not simply leave nothing? Well, that’s one way of doing it, but perhaps this is not as effective. When leaving nothing, the child might simply assume that Santa forgot to give them gifts, rather than intentionally not giving them to them. A lump of coal shows that someone has been and deemed you too naughty to deserve a present, so the cola was the substitute. Yes, this is kind of mean, but it was also a way of ensuring that kids would behave themselves!

Other alternatives

While Santa is known to favor coal for bad children, many of the other characters in folklore, such as Bafana, and Sinterklaas, use other things besides coal. For instance, they might choose to leave twigs, garlic, onions, or bags of salt for those who are naughty. In more recent times we have drifted away from the coal lesson, and simply tell children that if they misbehave, Santa will not show up at all.

Many of the stories and myths surrounding Santa Claus come from ancient folk tales, and other cultural legends. We always pick up things along the way, and use them to give our tales more credence, and this seems to be one of those. So, now you know the history behind why Santa gives coal to those who are naughty – hopefully, this will inspire you to behave yourself!