Experts argue Santa should phase out coal in stockings

It’s long been a tradition for Father Christmas to hand out coal to children who are on his ‘naughty list’, but as the world turns away from fossil fuels, an expert and her children argue that the punishment should be phased out.  

For the Christmas issue of medical journal The BMJ, Tamsin Holland Brown and her daughters Lilac and Marigold make the case for the ‘outdated and potentially harmful’ tradition to be wiped out.  

Usually at Christmas, well-behaved children receive gifts, while those who have been naughty all year are at risk of getting a lump of coal in their stocking.  

But the authors point out, burning coal can worsen the ongoing climate crisis and can cause poor air quality which can affect children’s health.  

red and white christmas stocking hanged on fireplace

Younger authors, Lilac and Marigold, said ‘[coal] is a fossil fuel and so giving children [coal means] the adults are being the naughty ones.’  

Giving out coal is also unlikely to make children behave better and could negatively impact their mental health.  

The Covid-19 pandemic, war, cost of living crisis and climate emergency are already giving children anxieties, so making positive connections with friends and between generations could be more beneficial.  

Additionally, naughtiness is not always such a bad thing, as sometimes that’s just what you need to do to protect others and the planet.  

The authors highlighted the actions of Swedish student and eco-activist Greta Thunberg, who stopped going to school to protest and inspired millions to join her school strikes for climate.  

Thunberg recognises that children ‘can’t save the world by playing by the rules’ and Lilac and Marigold admitted they missed school to attend a climate march in 2019 – should those who break a few rules still be on the naughty list? 

As alternatives to coal in stockings, they suggested eco-friendly gifts which are recycled or upcycled could be better.  

Trying plant-based foods, going on walks and spending time in nature could also help to ease anxieties about the climate crisis during the festive season.  

Photo by Addy Mae


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