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Censored “Night Before Christmas” lights up debate

Parents, lock up your kids: The Guardian brings news of the latest apparent threat to their wellbeing, and this one hasn’t been dead and buried in a golden coffin for nearly a year. Stopping just short of pleading for someone to think of the children, Canadian publisher Pamela McColl has drawn flak from anti-censorship groups for her new edition of Clement Moore’s venerable yule log in rhyming couplets A Visit From St Nicholas (more commonly known as “T’was The Night Before Christmas”), in which two lines referring to dear old Sandy Claws puffing on a pipe have been removed, along with an illustration of same.

McColl, operating through her own Grafton and Scratch publishing company, made this decision in a bid to prevent children from gazing upon this obese, elderly man and thinking ‘smoking! Wow! I had never considered it before, but now I know Santa does it, I’m sold!’ Please, nobody tell her what Sherlock Holmes gets up to.

In a statement explaining the motivation behind her actions, McColl – also an anti-smoking activist beyond the realms of festive literature – describes her edition as a ‘haircut’ for the text, saying:

Some people will say things like “We shouldn’t muck around with the classics,” but for a three-year-old this jolly elf is a real dude coming down the chimney and there is nothing historical about it.  One cannot underestimate the power and influence of Santa. Remember he decides who’s naughty or nice – presents or not. So if kids see him smoking they are picking up the wrong impression.

At time of press, Santa Claus remains a fictional character (though admittedly a dude) whose rules, logic and behaviour are dictated entirely by the whims of tired, frustrated parents.

McColl goes on to insist ‘There are no issues of censorship or banning of books here. I have edited out a few words and lines that reference Santa smoking and removed the cover illustration of his pipe,’ even though that, coupled with the reasoning behind it, is almost word for word the definition of censorship.

Naturally, several anti-censorship groups have protested McColl’s changes, notably the stalwarts of the American Library Association, who have described the edited version as ‘an act of censorship that denies the audience access to the author’s authentic voice’. McColl, for her part, maintains that ‘these edits outweigh other considerations. If this text is to survive another 200 years it needs to modernize and reflect today’s realities.’ Which makes perfect sense, because as we all know, it’s not like books ever survive changes in the attitudes surrounding their original publication.

A Visit From St Nicholas, american library association, censorship, Clement Moore, Grafton and Scratch, Pamela McColl, pipe smoking, Santa, The Night Before Christmas

Chris Ward

Chris Ward

Chris Ward writes and says things about books and music and films and what have you, even when no one is reading or listening.
He was chief hack and music editor of webzine Brazen from 2006 to 2010, and hosted Left of the Dial on Subcity Radio from 2008 to 2011.
He can be heard semi-regularly on the podcast of Scottish cultural blog Scots Whay Hae ('20th best website in Scotland!' - The List), and in 2011 founded Seen Your Video, a film and music podcast and blog based in Glasgow. He has a Masters degree in Scottish Literature from the University of Glasgow that will never have any practical application. You are on a hiding to nothing if you follow him on Twitter expecting any kind of hot publishing scoop.

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