There have been a number of references to this in recent posts, which reminded me of something.
Although I'd heard of the "bad boys get a lump of coal" thing, when I was young my mother's (always light-hearted) standard line was that this year all I was going to get was a potato on a string (which I was assured I'd be able to swing round my head and amuse myself for hours on end).
I assume she learned that particular mickey-taking from her father it sounds like his sense of humour but was this just our family's idea of a non-present, or was it more widespread than that?

Cheers, Harvey
Ottawa/Toronto/Edmonton for 30 years;
Southern England for the past 22 years.
(for e-mail, change harvey.news to harvey.van)
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There have been a number of references to this in recent posts, which reminded me of something. Although I'd heard ... of humour but was this just our family's idea of a non-present, or was it more widespread than that?

I think "a cold potato" was mentioned in our household, though only as an example of what more credulous 'other people' feared or expected, because my mother didn't hold with issuing imaginary threats. I assumed a cold potato was already cooked; I particularly like cold roast or baked potatoes, so the prospect might have been quite attractive were it not that getting one would have meant not getting the tangerine, the sugar mouse, the chocolate money, the Chinese glass diver, the Japanese water flowers, and so on.
Coal was never mentioned in our circles. And it's only now that it occurs to me to wonder if there's any link between "coal" and "cold". Probably not.

Katy Jennison
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There have been a number of references to this in ... of a non-present, or was it more widespread than that?

Rings no bells for me.
Coal was never mentioned in our circles. And it's only now that it occurs to me to wonder if there's any link between "coal" and "cold". Probably not.

You're asking about the word derivations, not Christmas customs, right? I go to the American Heritage for those sorts of questions, because I know they'll take everything possible back to the Indo-European roots. They saye "cold" comes from the family of "gel-" which includes chill, cold, cool, gelatin, jelly, congeal, glacial, and glacier. But all they say for "coal" is "Middle English col, from Old English."

I think I heard that Britain was a major early source of coal maybe the Anglo-Saxons didn't have to borrow the name from anybody else.

Best Donna Richoux
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Coal was never mentioned in our circles. And it's only ... if there's any link between "coal" and "cold". Probably not.

You're asking about the word derivations, not Christmas customs, right? I go to the American Heritage for those sorts of ... was a major early source of coal maybe the Anglo-Saxons didn't have to borrow the name from anybody else.

I think Katy was suggesting that "coal in the stocking" mutated to "(something) cold in the stocking."
Anyway, in my childhood it was switches and ashes.

Speaking of odd childhood myths: when I was little and lost a tooth, the coin was brought not by the tooth fairy but by a rat. I checked with one of my cousins and he has the same recollection. Has anyone else heard of that version? The association between rodents and dentition is obvious, but still...

John Varela
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There have been a number of references to this in recent posts, which reminded me of something. Although I'd heard ... Cheers, Harvey Ottawa/Toronto/Edmonton for 30 years; Southern England for the past 22 years. (for e-mail, change harvey.news to harvey.van)

I used to get a lump of coal in my Christmas stocking as a child/youth/young adult even. Furthermore, the "first foot" (i.e. the first person into a house on New Year's Day) would also carry a lump of coal. This was associated with good luck. I don't know whether this was a tradition just in our family, or whether it was wider than that. The NE of England, which is where I'm from, is/was of course a traditional coal-mining area.

Steve Howarth
Speaking of odd childhood myths: when I was little and lost a tooth, the coin was brought not by the ... the same recollection. Has anyone else heard of that version? The association between rodents and dentition is obvious, but still...

In France the coin is brought by the little mouse, "la petite souris"; a clever creature who keeps well aware of economic trends and who knows that the going rate for a front tooth is a one-euro coin.

Isabelle Cecchini
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On Thu, 23 Dec 2004, In message , Steve Howarth (Email Removed) writes
I used to get a lump of coal in my Christmas stocking as a child/youth/young adult even. Furthermore, the "first ... was wider than that. The NE of England, which is where I'm from, is/was of course a traditional coal-mining area.

I was under the impression that "first footer" is a Scottish thing, and he should be a tall, dark stranger, carrying a lump of coal. I have done duties for Scottish friends, although I don't know how they coped with the "stranger" bit. Perhaps I am just stranger than them.
Mark Browne
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You're asking about the word derivations, not Christmas customs, right?

I think Katy was suggesting that "coal in the stocking" mutated to "(something) cold in the stocking."

Yes, I was, or something like that. With absolutely nothing to go on other than sound similarity, though, and if it was a mutation it could just as well have been in the other direction. I'd forgotten about the coal in first-footing, however. But (again, without looking into it) I wouldn't leap to a connection between something intended as a punishment and something intended to bring good luck.

On First Footing, Ronald Hutton in 'The Stations of the Sun', 1996, about seasonal rituals in Britain, says "The large area between the northern Scottish saining and the southern English wassailing was occupied by the tradition of the First Foot". I didn't encounter it till I went to New Year's Eve parties with people whose families had come from more northerly counties than mine. In my friends' tradition, the first footer had to be a dark-haired male and had to bring a lump of coal, a loaf of bread and some money (coins).

I was hoping Hutton would also have something on Christmas stockings, but no.
Anyway, in my childhood it was switches and ashes.

Ashes as in residue after a fire, I take it.

Katy Jennison
spamtrap: remove the first two letters after the @
You're asking about the word derivations, not Christmas customs, right? ... Anglo-Saxons didn't have to borrow the name from anybody else.

I think Katy was suggesting that "coal in the stocking" mutated to "(something) cold in the stocking."

Right, well, if that was the line of discussion, I was going to point out that coal features in the Christmas/St. Nicholas customs of many European countries, as can easily be found by Googling. Germany, Italy, France, the Basques, Czechia... For the words of "coal" and "cold" to happen to resemble each other in those languages, too, would be unlikely.
I don't know what coal is called in other languages, except for Dutch where it pronounced the same but spelled differently. ... Hm, the "Concise Dictionary of 26 Languages" shows that the Romance languages have a form of "carbon", the Germanic languages a form of "kol", and the others are all over the place.
Since all the Germanic languages have something similar, American Heritage must have missed reporting an older family connection. And here I thought I could trust them.
As for "cold," the Romance languages have a form of "frio/froid," and the Germanic have kold, kout, etc.
So, all right, there stlll might possibly be a link between the Germanic words for "coal' and the Germanic words for "cold." Independent of any Christmas custom.
Anyway, in my childhood it was switches and ashes.

Ashes, as a concept, must be really old. There would always have been ashes around, since the taming of fire, and even before that, after wildfires. There wouldn't always have been coal.
Speaking of odd childhood myths: when I was little and lost a tooth, the coin was brought not by the ... the same recollection. Has anyone else heard of that version? The association between rodents and dentition is obvious, but still...

I only know the Tooth Fairy. Do they do the Tooth Fairy in the UK? (Put your tooth under the pillow, or in a glass of water, and in the morning, it's a coin.)

Best Donna Richoux
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