On Amazon, you can buy red velvet bags emblazoned with "you've been naughty" and stuffed with pieces of real coal. Coal has long symbolized the nadir of Christmas presents, a shameful "gift" for ill-behaved children. In my opinion, it's kind of a messed-up concept. I'm not the only one who thinks so.
Pediatrician Tamsin Holland Brown is co-author of an opinion piece published in The British Medical Journal on Monday calling for an end to coal as a Christmas punishment.
Holland Brown works for Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust in the UK. Her co-authors are her daughters Lilac and Marigold, who "contributed to the content, design and structure of this article, defining matters of importance to children."
The BMJ is a serious medical trade journal, but it gets festive every year with a Christmas-theme issue. "While we welcome lighthearted fare and satire, we do not publish spoofs, hoaxes or fabricated studies," the journal says.
The paper offers compelling arguments for banishing coal from Christmas traditions. As a non-renewable fossil fuel, the use of coal is one of the culprits in our human-caused climate crisis. "It would be good for goodness' sake if coal was left in the ground," the paper says.
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The Holland Browns suggest giving coal won't improve a child's "so-called naughty behavior," especially at a time when dark global news, ranging from cost-of-living concerns to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, can take a toll on mental health. The paper also cites Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg. "Thunberg inspired millions of children to go on school strike and attend climate marches. Surely these children deserve to be on the nice, not naughty, list?" the paper says.
Holland Brown's pediatrics specialty shines through in a section offering alternative gift ideas, such as books or presents that connect children to nature. The paper's finale is a call to action to the mythical Father Christmas: "Santa should phase out coal."
The paper cites sources as varied as the UK Climate Change Act of 2008 and the Winnie the Pooh Treasury to back up its conclusion: "The suggestion that children on the naughty list only deserve coal is outdated and potentially harmful to the environment and children's health."
Coal may be mostly seen as a gag gift these days, but the young co-authors are taking it seriously, calling adults who give coal "the naughty ones."
I definitely want to stay off Lilac and Marigold's naughty list. I've never given coal, and I pledge I never will.