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In Defense Of A Santa Who Doesn’t Smoke A Pipe

twas the night before christmasPamela McColl has spent $200,000 editing Twas The Night Before Christmas and she has published a version that tones down some of Santa’s bad habits.

“The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.”

That’s the pivotal line in the poem that McColl says has parents tearing out the offending page when they read the classic to their children. They claim the children cry upon finding out that Santa smokes. They’re worried about his health.

I think that McColl is on point with her beef. We should probably take a look at some of Santa’s other bad habits.

I have no problem with McColl doing the edit of the story. It’s her own money she’s spending, she’s taking all the risk on republishing the story, and, frankly, removing a pipe from Santa’s mouth is not a big deal to me.

I have argued before that classics need to be modified and rebooted to reflect modern sensibilities. Our societal morals evolve, and while it may have been a comforting quaint memory to imagine a man in a study chugging on a pipe, it’s a notion that no longer rings true in 2012.

This poem was written 189 years ago in 1823 before tobacco use was even widespread, let alone recognized as a health concern. Had the poem been written in the UK, Santa might have employed black slaves as elves (slavery wasn’t abolished until 1833). I’m sure if that historically-relevant reference had remained in the original work, cries for its removal would be heard. So why can’t the same be done for a smoking Santa? Where is the harm in Nicholas quitting?

The sub heading of the book explains it has been “edited for the benefit of children of the 21st Century.” Less than 20% of the population smokes. There’s nothing wrong with having a classic story that better reflects our modern morals.

Ask your kids to sing “Eenie meanie minie moe..” I’ll bet they catch a “tiger by the toe.” Ask your grandparents to say the rhyme, and, well, they’d catch something else. Times change.

Earlier this year word came down that parents had stopped reading classic fairy tales to their kids. Why? They were too scary and not relevant.

We, as parents, won’t read Hansel and Gretel because it’s a story about child abduction. We, as parents, won’t read Cinderella because it reinforces gender stereotypes. Yet, at the same time, legions have come to defend Santa’s “right to smoke”? Color me confused.

I self-edit stories I read to my kids all the time. Flip through the beginning of the original Curious George and you’ll see pipe smoking used as a comic tool. Not funny in our house, sorry.

McColl has come against a lot of friction with her edit. The ladies of The View wondered what’s next? A skinny Santa? (Well … since we’re on the topic …)

When I called for Charlie Brown to be rebooted, I received a few threatening emails. As you can expect, McColl is wading through the same sort of abuse.

Ann Curry, a professor who researches censorship and intellectual freedom in books and media, called what McColl had done “dreadful.” Colleague Gail de Vos, an adjunct professor in Canadian children’s literature and storytelling, called it “disturbing.”

Really? REALLY?! Santa quit smoking and this is dreadful and disturbing? Actually, what’s dreadful and disturbing is that Santa breaks and enters, stalks children, and giggles when they sit on his knee.

THAT’S disturbing, but we allow it for the spirit of the story. Santa smoking, or not smoking, has nothing to do with the myth of the man and the moral it shares with our children.

Mythology is mythology. It serves an inspirational purpose, and in the story of Santa at Christmas, we teach our kids about selfless giving, and that playing by the rules results in reward. Smoking is not a key point in the plot.

Taking them out does nothing to the story and, really, isn’t that what this is all about?

Image Via Twas The Night Before Christmas

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