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'Twas the Night that Santa gave up his pipe

There arose such a clatter.

An illustration by Charles Santore, an award-winning Philadelphia-born artist. (Applesauce Press)
An illustration by Charles Santore, an award-winning Philadelphia-born artist. (Applesauce Press)Read more

NEW YORK - Santa has kicked the habit in time for Christmas. No, not the sugarplum habit, or his fur-wearing habit, or his penchant for romping recklessly around open flame.

No, this is the year the man in red gave up pipe tobacco, at least in a new book version of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas that has received attention from some lofty corners, including the American Library Association.

The self-published Pamela McColl of Vancouver, Canada, has a mission for her story, to protect children and their parents from the ravages of smoking. She mortgaged her house and sank $200,000 into her telling of the 189-year-old holiday poem, touring the United States to promote it ahead of its September release.

What, particularly, did McColl do? She excised these lines: "The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth. And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath." And she added to the cover: "Edited by Santa Claus for the benefit of children of the 21st century."

She included a letter from Santa on the back jacket announcing that "all of that old tired business of smoking" is behind him, saying the reindeer can confirm his fur outerwear is faux out of respect for animals.

"There is a huge debate raging," McColl said of the attention. "I have been called every name in the book. One person said the only wreath they want to see this Christmas is one on my grave."

The 54-year-old entrepreneur and mother of adult twins said she's on Santa's case about smoking because she has seen firsthand how harmful it can be, recalling how at age 18 she had to pull her father out of his burning bed after he fell asleep with a lit cigarette.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the ALA's deputy director for intellectual freedom, is one of those critics.

"This wasn't a retelling," she said. "This wasn't a parody. ... This was presenting the original but censoring the content. That kind of expurgation that seeks to prevent others from knowing the original work because of a disapproval of the ideas, the content, is a kind of censorship that we've always disapproved of."

McColl said she's trying to offer one option among dozens of versions of the rhyme. She wants to shake up complacency over tobacco addiction and believes the pipe and rings of smoke around Santa's head do resonate with little kids who don't have the same Santa filters as the rest of us, especially those who have parents or other loved ones who smoke.

McColl estimated she has sold more than 15,000 hard copies of the book in English, French, and Spanish. She has given away thousands in e-books and to hospitals and charities in paper.