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Why coal in our stockings? Here’s where classic Christmas traditions come from.


Updated December 05, 2018 07:01 AM EST

Editor's note: This story was originally published Dec. 22, 2016. We're republishing it today in observation of Krampusnacht.


WASHINGTON (CIRCA) — Every family who celebrates Christmas has special traditions that are passed down from generation to generation, but here are some strange and downright wacky traditions you may not know about. 

Did you know the Christmas pickle ornament is a German tradition? 

There are actually several versions of the story.

The first says adults hang the glass pickle ornament deep in the tree on Christmas morning and the first child to find it gets an extra present from Santa. Another version of the story says the first adult to find it will have good luck in the new year, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune

On the other hand, some people think the Christmas pickle ornament is just a savvy marketing ploy thought up by Woolworth's store, which was the first to import German glass ornaments to the U.S. in 1890, the Columbia Daily Tribune reports. 

Ever wonder where the tradition of giving naughty children a lump of coal came from? 

Well, you can thank Italy's La Befana for that. 


Italian folklore says La Befana, the Christmas witch, leaves candy and toys in the stockings of well-behaved children on the night of Jan. 5. 

But legend has it she leaves lumps of coal for children who don't deserve a present, according to Slate

So, basically, La Befana made coal a thing before Santa. 

Do you know why we hang stockings by the fireplace? 

The tradition actually dates as far back as 1823. That's when Clement Clarke Moore or Henry Livingson Jr. wrote the poem "A Visit from Saint Nicholas," according to Smithsonian.com

St. Nicholas "fill'd all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk/And laying his finger aside of his nose/And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose," at the end of the poem. 

But the poem might not be the only reason for hanging stockings.


One legend says the tradition emerged because of a recently widowed man and his three daughters. Legend says the man was worried his daughters wouldn't be able to marry because the family was poor, according to the Smithsonian. 

When St. Nick came wandering through town and heard people talking about the family's situation, he decided to help.

So, one night, he slid down the family's chimney and found the girls' stockings drying by the fire. From there he filled the stockings with gold coins and the tradition began, according to the legend. 

So, what about the rest of the world? 

The United States isn't the only place with wacky Christmas traditions. Here are a few traditions from around the world that you might not know about:

  • In Austria, kids are terrified of the "Christmas devil" known as Krampus. He's said to beat naughty children with branches.
  • On Christmas Day in South Africa, locals eat deep-fried caterpillars of the Emperor Moth.
  • Catalonians, who live in northeastern Spain, have Tió de Nadal, also known as the "pooping log." On Christmas Eve, the log is placed halfway into the fire and beaten with sticks.
  • In the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, people rollerskate to Christmas morning mass. 

So, this year, it might be worth looking into your family's traditions.

Christmas song trivia!
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