Let Santa Smoke: Why Sanitizing Your Kids’ Books is Not the Answer

Katrina Trinko writes in USA Today:

This year, Santa’s on the naughty list.

A new version of the ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas — the holiday poem that’s long been a cultural staple — features a Santa Claus whose smoking habits are more Michael Bloomberg than Mad Men.

Canadian author Pamela McColl has censored the poem, removing two verses about Santa: “The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth/and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.” The book’s cover is unapologetic, reading “Edited by Santa Claus for the benefit of children of the 21st century.”

However, sanitizing Santa is not the answer.

1.  Use “Twas the Night Before Christmas” as a conversation catalyst.  Santa’s pipe might be the perfect time to talk to your kids about smoking.  I, for one, grew up in the farmland of Kentucky, where I believed “Tobacco” was a book in the Bible (confusing it with Habakkuk).  Conversations about moderately complicated issues not inherently bad, but are great moments to transfer values to children.

2.  Kids need to understand moral complexity.  Katrina writes:

“…the original ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas — penned almost 200 years ago — gives kids an important historical insight: namely, that every generation has weaknesses they don’t notice, but successive generations do. Recognizing that provides kids with a vital humility to incorporate in their understanding of their own generation’s mores.”

This is a lesson children at my 205 year old church — Zion Presbyterian in Columbia, Tennessee – have to learn at an early age, as they walk past the slave cemetery to walk into the main sanctuary.  It’s spiritually beneficial to come face to face with spiritual and cultural mistakes and blindspots, and to realize that even “good people” sometimes have terrible judgement.

3. Sanitizing Santa couldn’t stop at the pipe. With an obesity epidemic in America, why not go ahead and give St. Nick liposuction? Or at least take away those cookies left on every plate in the world?

4.  Sanitizing art can’t stop at Twas the Night Before Christmas.  Many beloved classics for children would need to be edited if we go down this path. According to QDREF, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Alice, Roger (101 Dalmatians), Ariel, and the Genie (Aladdin) have all puffed on screen.

Let’s face it.  We can’t scrub society of all vestiges of “evil,” nor would it make us better people if we could.  Patheos movie critic Rebecca Cusey discussed this recently:

Brothers and Sisters, the danger is within, not without.

Christian theology states that we are sinful creatures, or, to put it in Oprah terms, we’re each weighed down with his or her weakness, each with our own lifelong struggles.

Christians believe this intellectually, but it all goes out the window when dealing with media. Instead we tend to picture ourselves, and our children, as blank slates, pure white pieces of paper just waiting to be soiled by what Hollywood, Nashville, or YouTube throws at us…

In Matthew 15:10, Jesus states, “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.”

Other Scriptures also indicate the problem emanates from our own hearts and not from the pages of books of the screens of movies.  Do we need to protect our kids from filth?  Sure.  But we also need to approach art — even kids’ literature and movies — with a solid Biblical worldview.  Only this will allow parents to raise children confidently and boldly in a culture that often seems at odds with the lessons we’re trying to teach them.

It also means we don’t have to nag others — like Santa — to adapt to our code of conduct.


About Nancy French

Nancy French is a three time New York Times Best Selling Author.

  • http://www.twasthenightbeforechristmas.ca pamela mccoll

    There will always be some people who believe in the greater good, and the principle of firstly do no harm. The overly reactive critics come from a place of paranoia. It would be absolutely impossible to censor the original smoking versions of this poem. This pragmatic publisher simply wishes to provide an optional version based on solid research that shows such depictions can sympathize young children 3-7 years of age towards future tobacco use as can images as cited in this article. This book was done for the children who have parents that smoke and their number one wish for Christmas was that Santa help them get their parents to stop. As the paranoid, angry and may I say hostile critics of editing remind themselves that in the original we had a reindeer named Dunder and we rested our “brians” for a long winter’s nap. This poem has endured because of slight changes that readers embraced. This edition has won book awards, has Kirkus Reviews saying the edit is legitimate due to the perils of smoking. In the 21st. century one billion people will die from a tobacco related disease if the estimates are accurate and nothing changes. You can hold tight to your library books, close the gates and protect the castle but in the grand scheme of things the greater good is to stand behind anyone trying to protect this manmade epidemic from taking more lives. If you are still struggling with the greater good concept may I refer you to the movie Lincoln or to the changes Sir Paul McCartney made this year to The Christmas Song. No one is burning, banning or destroying books and quite frankly I believe that Clement C. Moore would applaud not condemn these changes afterall he despised tobacco and called it opium’s treacherous friend. This is freedom of choice. My last comment would be that I listened to the reading of this poem over the holidays by major public figures on national radio and t.v. and I did not hear one “teachable” word or reference. We need a smoke-free generation nothing less and some of us are doing everything we can to make that happen including asking film studios to stop putting smoking in PG13 movies, of which 50% in 2012 had smoking and will capture 44% of youth to the life of a nicotine addict. It is a shame. You may not like the smoke-free edition after all is said and done and I would encourage you not to panic, there are plenty of smoking Santa books around even though Santa himself stopped smoking in 2012 and there is nothing anyone can do about that fact unless you know how to delete all of google, yahoo or other search engines and that would be the most sinister form of censorship I can imagine as it would serve no higher good.