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Surviving coal for Christmas

Dear Mr. Christmas Advice Person,

I know Santa will be coming to town next week with a bag of presents for good little boys and girls. But, I haven’t been very good this year, and my folks keep telling me that instead of Christmas presents I’m going to get a “lump of coal” for Christmas.

My question is, what is a lump of coal? I haven’t been able to find coal in any of the department stores I’ve visited.  Is it like a video game? Or is it something I have to eat on Christmas like brussels sprouts?

Thank you. Your friend, Billy.

Dear Billy,

Unfortunately, the significance of getting a lump of coal in your stocking at Christmas has been lost over the years along with the idea of peace on earth and good will toward all.

Way back in the past century, getting coal in your stocking before Christmas was originally used as a sign that you’d been bad and needed to straighten your act out real quick for Ol’ St. Nick.  Many years ago the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” included the refrain, right after “A partridge in a pear tree,” the words, “Or a big lump of coal in your stocking.”  But that was eliminated during the coal shortage of 1929, because everybody needed coal then to stay warm and keep the home fires burning, so it was a good thing to find coal on Christmas morn.

As you indicated in your letter, most children today don’t have a clue what coal is, unless of course, they are from Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia and a few western states where coal grows in the ground. In those places, children not only know what a chuck of coal is, but can also tell you whether it is anthracite or bituminous coal as well as its heat value.

But to answer your question, coal has no relationship to video games. Coal is a soft black rock that burns and was formed by compressed plant life.

I grew up when homes where heated by coal, so it has special memories for me, like keeping me warm when it got cold.

In those days, getting coal before Christmas was only a warning and wasn’t so bad. You could always get rid of the evidence by throwing it in the furnace and burning it, which was also a good deed because you were heating the house. You could also use the coal to disguise yourself for Santa by rubbing it on your cheeks and chin to make a black beard and be someone else.

Or, you could do with the coal what I always did. I’d form a snowball around it and throw it at my brother who was the one who stuck it in my stocking in the first place.

Anyway, you raise a good point in your letter. That is, kids today do not know coal from cola any more. I believe as a society we have to find an alternative to warning children about getting coal for Christmas.

I have given this much thought and I have a few suggestions.

Maybe, children should maybe get sushi in their stocking at Christmas if they are bad, Let me tell you kid, it’s better to get coal in your stocking than week-old sushi for Christmas.

Another thing that could be used to straighten out misguided youth at Christmas is a warning that if they don’t behave, they would get a “rutabaga” for Christmas. I’ll bet fewer kids  know what a rutabaga is then coal, but rutabaga sounds much more menacing. For example, kids could be told, “You’re going to get nothing but a rutabaga for Christmas and you’re going to have to eat it for Christmas for dinner with a side of brussels sprouts.”

That would probably fix the behavior problems of most kids.

So, have a happy holiday, Billy, and watch out for the rutabaga in your stocking.

— Myron Kukla

Myron Kukla is the author of several books of humor including Guide to Surviving Life available online at: Email him at

Reflections of Erma