“He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot…
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!
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!”
–from “A Visit from St. Nicholas”
I suppose it was only a matter of time. In an age where fitness gurus saturate the airwaves and Scandinavian policymakers are calling for bans on butter in schools, it shouldn’t be too surprising that someone would take aim at that nefarious corrupter of public morals: Santa Claus.
The Associated Press recently reported that author Pamela McColl mortgaged her house and spent 200,000 of her own Canadian dollars to publish and promote a reworking of Clement Clarke Moore’s classic poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (otherwise known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas”). Only the new version bowdlerizes some lines McColl deems objectionable: “The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, / And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.”
The dust jacket of McColl’s book also includes a letter from Santa stating that “all of that old tired business of smoking” is behind him, and that out of respect for animals, his clothing is now made from faux fur. The book has been praised by groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics. However, the American Library Association views McColl’s work as nothing less than censorship.
Apparently, McColl’s animosity towards tobacco began when she was eighteen years old and had to pull her father out of his burning bed after he’d fallen asleep with a lit cigarette. Of course like many anti-vice crusaders, she was a smoker herself when she was young but later kicked the habit. (As my grandpa used to say: ”There’s nothing worse than a reformed drunk.”)
Personally, I find McColl’s fixation on Santa’s pipe a bit amusing. I remember the illustrated edition of Moore’ classic poem that my mother read to me as a child—complete with a painting of Mister Claus puffing on a big-bowled Meerschaum while enjoying a brief respite from his night’s busy labors.
Apart from Middle Earth and Kevin Costner’s portrayal of Devil Anse Hatfield, pipe smokers are pretty much a dying breed these days. So the idea that Santa is somehow inspiring a new generation of toddlers to light up a briar is naive at best, and it is yet another example of political correctness gone awry. So what’s next? Non-fat, sugar-free sugar-plums? Safety guardrails on rooftops and chimneys? A flame-retardant suit for old Saint Nick? Or how about a worldwide ban on wood-burning fireplaces?
If McColl had her way, she’d likely have Santa on a regimented exercise plan to trim away that unhealthy layer of flab around his mid-section. But then again, she’s probably the sort of person who thinks that rewriting Huckleberry Finn for a modern audience is a good idea, too.