Is there a parent alive who hasn’t read their children the classic Christmas poem “Twas The Night Before Christmas”? The poem is approaching 200 years in age and since its creation has captured the Christmas imagination of millions.
It emerges again in a delightfully illustrated volume that has been ever so slightly tweaked from the original: missing is verse “The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath”. This smoke-free edition of the classic poem is the work of publisher Pamela McColl.
“The original poem (by Clement C. Moore) will be around forever, this is just an alternative,” she says. “Santa Claus smoking in a book for young children — really? Maybe then, but not now.”
McColl — who started smoking when she was 16 and quit when she became pregnant with her twins at 30 — is involved with the western Canadian branch of Smoke Free Movies — an organization that’s pushing for the end of tobacco use in films that may include a young audience.
The funny thing is if McColl had not told me the poem had been changed in the book I probably would not have noticed. Once we received the book and passed it around it received rave reviews from the Moms and Dads in our office. “I took the book home on a cool September evening and darn if it didn’t cause my four-year-old to crawl up into my lap for a good read,” mom Stacy Winthrop shared. “It did just what it is designed to do — delight the kids!”
An informal poll in our group saw no harm and no foul from a smoke-free Santa. That, however, is not the case considering all the press this book has received in recent weeks.
“I think it’s dreadful,” said Ann Curry, a professor at the University of Alberta who has researched censorship in children’s books.
Her colleague, Gail de Vos, an adjunct instructor in Canadian children’s literature and storytelling at UofA, received a copy to review.
“Although it’s now in the public domain, there’s something disturbing about modifying a classic,” Ms. de Vos said. “What about those children who never get to hear the real thing? What if they become an adult and find out Santa used to be a smoker?”
The American Library Association and other literary advocacy organizations are wholly opposed to “expurgation” or taking references out of books that may now be deemed vulgar or offensive, said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
“That’s the goofiest thing I’ve ever heard,” Gail Anderson, a mother of four from Orem, Utah stated. “Santa Claus was originally a Bishop, a man of deep religious feeling. Did people of the 1820s get upset when Moore didn’t portray him that way? Santa Claus is a beloved figure we nearly all experience as children and then again through our children. He should represent the values we as parents want him to have. As a parent, I’m thrilled to find a smoke-free Santa. I used to just skip over that part and now I don’t have too.”
“Wouldn’t it be sad if we saw a poem that’s so incredibly influential in our celebration of Christmas cast aside because we didn’t make a simple edit and took out a simple verse that’s offensive to modern children?” McColl said.
Other classics have been updated to fit the modern times — the man in the yellow hat from Curious George doesn’t smoke anymore, she said.
“I had someone say to me ‘You can’t do that, he’s an historical figure,’ and I said ‘Santa is not a historical figure to a five-year-old. He’s literally a real guy smoking in their living room.’”
The book is cheerfully illustrated and is available now at retailers everywhere.