Santa Claus calling it quits—in smoking?

Vera H-C Chan
Senior Editor, Special Projects
The Sideshow

Santa's gone cold turkeyalthough he's still breathing second-hand smoke from those sooty chimneys.

Vancouver, Canada, publisher Grafton and Scratch has released an edited version of Clement Clarke Moore's 1822 poem, "The Visit From St. Nicholas," better known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." As you may recall, between a description of a "droll little mouth" and a belly "that shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly," Moore had described the night visitor with a "stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth/And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath."

No more, thanks to Pamela McColl, an author and former smoker who spent $200,000 to delete that verse in her self-published version. The inspiration came after thumbing through a library book of Santa's escapades published in the 1960s—her childhood years—and realized good ole St. Nick was puffing throughout half the book. "A lot of people my age have lost someone to smoking," McColl told the L.A. Times. "And I thought, 'Oh my. This is a great project.'"

Of course, there has been a long publishing tradition of abridging adult books for the kids' markets, mainly for easier reading, although that practice isn't without controversy among parents: One kid-friendly version of "A Tale of Two Cities," for instance, omits the famous line, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

And St. Nick himself had been deployed by tobacco companies in the not-so-distant past to shill for their products. Stanford University School of Medicine's amazingly thorough tobacco advertising database includes quite a few pinups of Santa puffing. (Yes, Santa Claus was even a Marlboro Man at one point, as the Non Smokers' Movement of Australia's collection reveals.)

Defenders of the word, however, see dropping Santa's pipe as an egregious literary infringement. One American Library Association representative decried the edit as "an act of censorship that denies the audience access to the author's authentic voice," the New York Post reported. The National Coalition Against Censorship opined in The Guardian that "putting children in an insulation bubble, hoping to protect them from anything their parents may deem harmful, is not only impossible, it is unproductive."

Pundits also have been leaning against this zealotry, as the National Review dubs it. After all, points out Charles C. Cooke, Santa's other peculiar habits, like the whole trespassing thing, might also be construed as poor role modeling:

Santa Claus smokes! He also breaks and enters, travels without a passport, violates the terms of goodness knows how many countries' airspace, and doesn't pay taxes. He is overweight and he has little plan to do much about it. He's a terrible drunk, at least in Britain and Australia, where he is left sherry; and in Ireland, where he is traditionally provided with beer. He fails on the diversity and equal-protection fronts, too ... (National Review, Oct. 22)

Smoking Santa or no, the latest stats show a steady decline in cigarettes in Canada (49% to 21%) and the U.S.(40% to 19%) since the 1970s. In any case, someone tell Frosty he might want to rethink that corncob pipe.