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Why is Santa Smoking Controversial?

By Jeff Westover

In recent days a Christmas story has unfolded that has just amazed me. It has been everywhere in the media, including on our sites at and

It is all about a new book of an old story. Publisher Pamela McColl has released a brilliantly illustrated new edition of The Night Before Christmas with one simple edit: she has removed the verse referencing Santa smoking a pipe.

That simple act has drawn a plethora of responses. Here locally, when I showed the book to several Moms when we received review copies they were thrilled with the book. Their focus wasn’t so much on the edit as it was with the cheerfully illustrated pages they knew their little ones would clamor for when reading time came. But when I told them of the edit the common response was a shrug of the shoulders. “Who cares?” one mom asked. “I skip over that part anyway with my kids.”

But in the media the response has been quite different. Mean even.

Does this silly woman really believe that old Santa smoking his pipe has been the cause of many children smoking. In all my years I have never seen a little child or even a teenager smoking a pipe. How dare she change this beautiful old classical poem than many families have enjoyed each Christmas Eve before children scurry excitedly off to bed.

Here is another scathing review.

McColl is an anti-smoking advocate who works regularly to campaign against the marketing of tobacco to children.

Two things come to mind to me in looking at all the reactions to this book:

1. Really people? The words removed are “The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, and the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath.” . Are removing those words really a violation of anything when reading the book to a four-year-old? Will it stunt their growth? Poison their mind? Will it remove any of the magic so preciously tied to this poem?

2. Isn’t Twas the Night Before Christmas the most mimicked poem in history? Haven’t you read millions of versions of the poem mocking everything from parenthood to the workplace? Where is the upset over that?

I guess I don’t see what the big deal is. There are literally dozens of choices when buying this poem for your kids when you go to Amazon. You can get the regular edition or the smoke-free edition of Santa. You now have that choice.

Is a crime being committed?

We posted this up to our Facebook page the other day and I was just shocked at the response it got. Some folks were downright riled up over the issue.

I suppose it is because this poem is Christmas. It is the Queen Mother of Christmas magic. Like Santa himself, it just isn’t anything you mess with. And that is an attitude I understand.

But I don’t agree it needs this level of angst. When you mix the magic of wonderful images with the beauty of verse while holding a small child on your lap…some details in that you just don’t need to sweat.

Father of 7, Grandfather of 7, husband of 1. Freelance writer, Major League baseball geek, aspiring Family Historian.

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