To look at the history of coal in the stocking, we must first visit the stocking legend itself. Stockings have been hung on the fireplace mantle for generations. The legend and reason goes far back in history and some of the facts are now shrouded in mystery. Why do we stick with this tradition and why is coal put in the stocking? Was it a present or a prank? Detailed research will show us a story or two.
The Stocking: Legend Number One
A proud nobleman had three daughters ready to marry, yet no dowry to give them. (Saint) Nicholas heard of this and secretly provided money to the family so that they would have the funds they needed for the ladies' new lives. He did this either by tossing the money through a window so it landed in some stockings drying by the fireplace, or else he came down the chimney in secret, found the stockings hanging on the hearth to dry and put money in them as a place to hold the funds until the family awoke the next morning.
Results of Saint Nicholas's Kindness
Once word travelled about what happened with the nobleman and daughters, people across the countryside began to hang stockings on the mantelpiece in hopes of receiving the same good fortune. Stocking stuffers were originally gold or silver coins (the currency of the day). It would be much later that special stockings for Christmas alone would be introduced.
Stockings: Legend Number Two
Another reason in which stockings are used in the first place come from the historic Odin. Children would fill their boots with food Odin's horse Sleipir would enjoy as he flew by on Christmas eve: straw, sugar and carrots. The kids would receive gifts and candy as a thank you from Odin.
Legend states that the gift giving as coal as a gag comes to us from Italy. Those children who were not good would receive coal from Santa for being naughty. Any child who couldn't get into a better behaviour pattern would end up on the "bad" list rather than the "good" list and no luxurious gifts such as chocolates for fruits would be received.
While coal is no longer given too naughty children, stockings are still filled with small toys or useful or tasty items. Today's stocking stuffers come from the tradition of gifts that stimulated the senses: fruit or candy for taste, nuts or noisy toys for hearing, something soft for touch, something pretty or shiny for sight, something odorous for smell.