Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

December 25, 2007

Coal for Christmas seen differently in regions where mining reigns

BLUEFIELD — People in coal country have a little different take on the idea of finding coal in their stockings on Christmas morning, according to Dr. C. Stuart McGehee, director of the Eastern Regional Coal Archives in Bluefield.

“The tradition of bad little girls and boys finding coal in their Christmas stockings doesn’t have the same meaning in coal mining communities as it does in places where coal is not mined,” McGehee said. “Coal mining is more than a job in coalfields throughout the world,” McGehee said. “It is a way of life for entire families who live in coal mining communities. Coal is mined in almost every nation.”

McGehee speculated that the negative connotation associated with a child finding coal in his or her Christmas stocking likely came from an area “where there are no coal mines, and people think of coal only as being dirty.”

The idea of misbehaving children that find coal in their stockings has been around for many years. Several Internet-based sources suggest that the tradition may have originated in Italy where children received Carbone Dolce or “sweet coal” as a Christmas treat. Sweet coal is made of a mixture of chocolate and puffed rice cereal. After combining and heating the ingredients, the cooled ingredients form into lumps that resemble coal.

McGehee said that people who earn a living from coal mining don’t think of a lump of coal as being a bad thing. “People respect coal and coal miners,” he said. “Coal miners even have their own patron saint,” he said.

Saint Leonard of Noblac, a 5th and 6th Century holy man, is the patron saint of coal miners. Saint Leonard lived a life of great piety, charity and self-sacrifice, according to information posted on Everything2.com. Saint Leonard’s desire to know God led him to the monastery at Orleans, France. He later served in the court of King Clovis, and after Clovis’ army was successful in battle, the pagan king became a Christian and allowed St. Leonard to care for prisoners and to liberate anyone he found to be worthy.

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