A long-established Christmas tradition in many parts of the world is rewarding well-behaved children with gifts, but handing out just lumps of coal to miscreant ones. Currently, such Christmas-related lumps of coal are widely available from major online retailers, and the #coalforchristmas hashtag crops up on social media myriad times.
However, in an opinion piece from the Christmas issue of the journal BMJ, National Health Services (NHS) pediatrician Tamsin Holland Brown and her daughters Lilac and Marigold have made an environmental – and compassionate – plea for ending this “outdated and potentially harmful” tradition.
In their view, not only does the burning of this non-renewable fossil fuel exacerbate the current climate crisis, but its impact on air quality can endanger the health of both children and adults. “It would be good for goodness’ sake if coal was left in the ground,” they argued.
Moreover, receiving such a “gift” could also turn out to be damaging for children’s mental health. In times when global anxiety is massively fueled by the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and climate change, fostering friendships and connections between the generations might help combating anxiety much better than receiving a lump of coal.
Citing Greta Thunberg, the young eco-activist who inspired millions of children to go on school strikes to raise awareness about climate change, the authors also made a case for rewarding “naughtiness.” According to Thunberg, children “can’t save the world by playing by the rules,” so such children deserve to be on Santa’s nice rather than naughty list.
In Brown’s and her daughters’ opinion, alternatives to punitive coal could include recycled/upcycled gifts, plant-based foods, walks and bike rides in nature, inspiring books, or even stick insects. Since coal is a dangerous fossil fuel, giving it to children means that adults are in fact the naughty ones.
“The suggestion that children on the naughty list only deserve coal is outdated and potentially harmful to the environment and children’s health. Making or choosing gifts that connect children to people of all ages, nature, and animals can foster emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing over the festive season and could make a lifetime of difference,” the authors concluded.
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