Fresh version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas sparks censorship ro)
A new version of Clement C Moore’s classic festive poem A Vist from St Nicholas, better known by its first line, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, has removed all mentions of Santa Claus’s pipe in a bid to limit children’s exposure to images of smoking.
Canadian publisher Pamela McColl released her edition of the 1823 poem, which is attributed to Moore, last month, drawing widespread criticism from anti-censorship groups. Her version cuts two lines from the poem – the description of St Nicholas which runs “The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, / And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath” – as well as redrawing the illustration to remove the pipe and smoke from around the character.
McColl, who published the book through her own company, Grafton and Scratch, is an anti-smoking campaigner, and believes children’s books which feature smoking should include parental warnings. She did not respond to a request for comment from the Guardian, but writes on her website that the cuts she has made to the Moore poem do not constitute censorship.
“I have edited out a few words and lines that reference Santa smoking and removed the cover illustration of his pipe. The omission of these few words do not change the material intent of the author nor do they infringe on the reader’s understanding or enjoyment of this historically-rich story, but by removing these words we may save lives and avoid influencing new smokers,” she says. “I think these edits outweigh other considerations. If this text is to survive another 200 years it needs to modernise and reflect today’s realities. I want children to celebrate the spirit of giving and to reflect proudly on the holiday traditions that shape their childhood, and the best way to honour Santa and this story is to make him smoke-free.”
The description for the book on Amazon states that “as the direct link between the exposure to the depiction of characters smoking and youth initiation to nicotine has been well established, we were compelled to make these recommended changes”.
But the American Library Association disagreed, saying that the changes made represent “an act of censorship that denies the audience access to the author’s authentic voice”. Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the ALA’s office for intellectual freedom, said that “such censorship misrepresents the artist’s original work and relies wholly on the idea that children are incapable of critical thinking or that a parent’s guidance and training are meaningless”.
She suggested that “a far better path would be providing tools for parents who want to raise the issue with their children rather than suppressing Clement Moore’s speech. One person’s beliefs, no matter how well-meaning, should not be used to deny youth and families the ability to read Clement Moore’s original poem for their own enjoyment.”
At the National Coalition Against Censorship, director of programmes Svetlana Mintcheva said 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”.
“In this world where all kinds of images barrage us in the street, on the internet and through mass media, energies should be directed at helping children navigate among messages and look at them critically rather than hoping for a magic solution by taking away Santa’s pipe,” she said.
McColl has not addressed the issue of Santa’s obesity in her “special 21st-century edition”. Moore writes that “He had a broad face and a little round belly / That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly”, and these lines remain in the poem.
“He doesn’t eat in the story. That’s not my issue,” she told the LA Times. “That’s Jamie Oliver and other people’s issue.”