By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The idea that Santa puts a lump of coal in the stocking of a child who has been naughty has circulated for many years, but like many legends of the Christmas tradition, there doesn’t seem to be a clear pathway to the origin of the notion. The legend of naughty children receiving coal in their stockings likely comes from multiple sources.
As to the question of whether or not people actually still put coal in Christmas stockings, Charles Goins, owner of Goins’ Gas & Produce said: “More than you would think.”
During the winter months, Goins sells bag coal at $8 each for a bag. Each bag contains about 90-100 pounds of coal. He also sells scoops of coal that weigh about 1,000 pounds each for $75. He loads the scoop-coal with a Bobcat loader.
“My dad started selling bag coal in the early 1950s and I still sell quite a bit of it,” Goins said. “We don’t have a rush of people who buy coal to put in Christmas stockings, but we do have more than you would think. We also have people who pass through here from Florida or other southern states that don’t have coal. Sometimes, they buy coal to take back and show their friends.”
But Goins said that it’s more than a novelty for most of his coal-buying customers. “We sold 20 to 25 bags of coal (on Saturday),” he said. “We have regular customers who come from as far away as Narrows, Va., and North Carolina to buy coal. One fellow from North Carolina likes to come here to watch the trains pass.”
Goins’ station is located across Princeton Avenue from the Norfolk Southern Railway mainline through Bluefield and is a great vantage point for observing coal trains as they pass. Through the years, Goins has earned a solid reputation for automotive mechanical skills, but his business is also known for the produce and fruit he sells in the summer season.
“We sell a little bit of everything,” Goins said. “We’ve had a good year for coal and for our Christmas trees.” Goins said that when the weather warms up, he stores the coal, and uses the same bins to store bulk mulch that he sells during the spring, summer and early fall.
Goins said that he gets his soft coal from Cucumber in McDowell County and his hard coal comes from Kentucky. “We sell right smart of each,” he said.
Information from a variety of sources points to the notion that receiving coal in a Christmas stocking is likely a combination of two legends from different countries. The Christmas stocking legend may originate from the story of Saint Nicholas placing gold coins in the stockings of three unmarried daughters of a man who had no money and feared he couldn’t pay a dowry for his daughters to be married. The gold that Saint Nicholas placed in the stockings that were hanging on the mantle to dry, enabled the girls to be married.
The coal in the stockings of bad little boys and girls may have originated with the story of the “true giver of gifts,” La Befana, that originated in Italy and is observed in conjunction with the Feast of Epiphany, on Jan. 6. La Befana, an elderly woman who loved children, lived on the road that the three wise men traveled as they followed the star in search of the birthplace of the Christ child. The wise men stopped at the home of La Befana, and asked her to join them in their search for the baby Jesus.
La Befana responded that she had too much to do, and couldn’t travel with the three wise men. However, she provided food for them and a place for them to rest. After they left, she changed her mind and tried to follow them, but grew fatigued and fell asleep. She was awakened from her sleep by an angel who put magic dust on her broom that enabled her to fly on it.
Some versions of the story say that La Befana flew to each home along the way, leaving toys and candy for the good boys and girls and a lump of coal for naughty children. Sometimes in Italy, a rock candy called Carbone Dolce is substituted for the coal as a joke. Actually putting coal in a child’s Christmas stocking is considered cruel by many accounts.
— Contact Bill Archer at firstname.lastname@example.org