The smoke police want to take away Santa’s pipe.
I discovered this while reading today’s New York Post, which had a small news item about Canadian author Pamela McCall self-publishing a new, sanitized version of the Christmas classic A Visit From St. Nicholas. I dug around, found corroboration of the news, and looked up McCall’s author biography and a Facebook page dedicated to her book.
McCall describes herself as a “children’s advocate and smoking cessation coach.” She decided to scrub away the smoking reference from the original work by Clement Moore, which dates back to 1823. One of the most famous of children’s stories, A Visit From St. Nicholas (also called ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas) is credited with shaping the image of Santa Claus as a jolly, overweight and, yes, smoke-kissed image of Christmas.
McCall’s Twas the Night Before Christmas is published not only without the apostrophe before the “t” in “’twas,” but it also is missing Santa’s trademark pipe. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the verse, allow me to quote the line from the original that ignited McCall’s ire:
“The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.”
I have no issue with a person coming up with a story that doesn’t mention smoking, or one that talks about smoking being bad for you. If it’s your story, you can write it any way you please. But rather than having the creativity to imagine a tale of her own, to pluck words from the ether and place them together in a way that people might find as memorable, endearing and entertaining as the original, McCall simply took out her red pen and cut out the words she didn’t like. That’s not writing, that’s censoring.
How odd that McCall would find Santa’s pipe such a problem. The story is about a man who spends his workday climbing down chimneys, many of them presumably dirty. Sure, it’s only one workday a year, of course, but it’s quite a busy one, and Santa clearly pays a price for moving through flues. In an earlier verse, St. Nick is described as:
“…dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot...”
I don’t know about you, but I think sliding down a chimney is dangerous. Chimneys are dirty, cramped places that are not good for the lungs, and sliding down a flue can leave you with a broken leg. Even more dangerous is the possibility of dropping onto a roaring fire, a distinct possibility given how many chimneys Santa has to descend in one evening.
I’ve read this tale to my son every Christmas Eve for years, and on more than one occasion he has expressed concern for Santa’s well-being, given that I sometimes read the story to him while we sit in front of a fireplace that is en fuego. “Don’t worry,” I tell him each year. “Santa has a magic suit.” Works like a charm.
In addition to the dangers of chimney surfing, what about Santa’s gut? If puffing a pipe is bad, isn’t carrying extra poundage also an issue? When your belly starts shaking “like a bowful of jelly,” as the poem goes, you might be at risk of a heart attack. What kind of example is that for the kids?
The problem with censorship is that it’s a slippery slope. Once you begin taking away every influence that might be construed as bad, you end up with a world covered in padded edges, cloaked in bubble wrap and sanitized for our protection. And life suddenly becomes very boring.
I don’t know about you, but my Santa smokes a pipe, leaps down chimneys without fear and likes his sugar cookies with a Scotch chaser. And he would get a good, belly-shaking laugh if an editor threatened to slim him down, clean off his red suit or take away his briar.
This Christmas Eve, just as every other, I’m going to sit down with my son and read him A Visit From St. Nicholas as it was first written. Pipe and all.
You can follow David Savona on Twitter: @DavidSavona