All things considered, Clement Clark Moore is lucky he didn’t try getting his poem published nowadays. An account of an overweight man wearing animal furs while sneaking into the homes of sleeping families probably would have brought him a sleigh-full of rejection slips.
It certainly would have earned a frosty response from Pamela McColl.
McColl is the Canadian publisher who reportedly spent $200,000 to come out this year with an abridged version of what may be the best-known poem in the Western world.
She’s calling it: “Twas the Night Before Christmas, Edited by Santa Claus for the Benefit of Children of the 21st Century.” Unlike the version published in 1823, this one has no smoke encircling like a wreath the head of the jolly old elf. In her politically corrected version, Santa’s pipe has been Photoshopped out of the traditional picture. At the age of 189, he’s kicking the habit.
“As the publisher I was compelled to act on Santa’s wish that the reference to smoking a pipe simply drop from the pages to protect young readers from nicotine use,” she explains. Exactly when, or how, Mr. Claus communicated his wish to Ms. McColl is not clear.
But reports of the new version has visions of censorship dancing in the heads of many critics.
“It’s denying access to the original voice of the author, and that’s censorship,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, of the American Library Association, comparing it to removing the “n” word from “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” (There is, it should be noted, speculation that Moore, himself, was an anti-smoker and might not even have been the real author of the poem).
“Children would be better served to be taught to think critically instead of hoping for a magic solution by taking away Santa’s pipe,” said Svetlana Mintcheva, director of programs at the National Coalition Against Censorship.
And McColl’s editing gets no “ho, ho, ho” from Nicholas Trolli, president of the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas, an organization limited to men with real beards who have portrayed Santa at least once. He says the original text presents modern-day Santas with a valuable teaching moment.
“We use the opportunity to tell kids that Santa used to smoke but Miss (SIC) Claus made him quit,” he notes. “So we are telling our Santas to continue using the original version of the book.”
But McColl believes her deletions will do more good than harm.
“I don’t care how you like your classics,” she insists. “I care about your children.”
Whether a smokeless Santa will have any real impact is open to debate. If it does, however, the next re-write probably should have Santa getting to the gym once in a while to do something about that jiggling bowl full of jelly he’s carrying around.
Or, at least, we should be explaining to our kids why they should stop leaving out those cookies and milk on Christmas Eve.