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Good Question: Why Does Santa Give Bad Kids Coal, Of All Things?

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Were you on Santa’s naughty or nice list this year?

Well, you probably found out when you checked your stocking. But why does Santa give children coal if they’ve been bad?

We asked Brian Horrigan with the Minnesota History Center for an answer.

“Santa Claus comes down chimneys…and he needs something to give the bad kid. So he’s looking around and picks up a lump of coal, and sticks that into the kid’s stocking,” Horrigan said.

That’s one idea. Another is all about heat – and a way for Santa to help the poor.

“My personal theory,” Horrigan said, “is that it has something to do with the ‘Christmas Carol’ and Ebenezer Scrooge, who, we all know, refused to give even a single lump of coal to Bob Cratchit, who was freezing in his office.”

The third theory comes from Italy, where bad kids got coal, while good kids got nuts and fruit. That tradition has stuck around in cold climates like ours.

While each idea varies, one thing is certain: stories always take on a life of their own.

“Somewhere along the line the whole thing about coal made sense, then it got told and retold and retold,” Horrigan said. “And then there were 1,000 variations of the story.”

For many, the tradition has morphed into a joke, where people buy “coal candy” or soap that looks like coal. And in some cultures, bad kids got potatoes, because coal was harder to come by.

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