The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
Clement C. Moore
I can’t help it. I almost always insert my own comment here as I read The Night Before Christmas: Yuck! He’s smoking a pipe in their home? I’ve been trying to figure out alternative words to replace those lines, but nothing I’ve come up with has the flow and feel to fit in with the story.
But why? Seriously. I’m reading a story about a magical man whizzing around the planet bringing toys and goodies on Christmas Eve, his sled (which can hold all those toys) being pulled by flying reindeer, and he comes down the chimney? And I’m concerned about Cameron hearing a few lines about that guy smoking a pipe?
Sure, it goes against every fibre of my being to present smoking tobacco as a positive, warm, social, friendly thing to do. But does that make it right for me to change the classic lines of the story? To edit and censor? Certainly I’ll censor what Cameron sees on TV, and I wouldn’t read some stories to him, and as he grows older I’ll censor what video games and movies he sees. But smoking?
Smoking cigarettes, sadly, is a part of our lives. I don’t smoke and I don’t really have close friends who do. Potential friends probably get offended at the wrinkle on my nose as I ask, “You smoke?” But we see cigarettes everywhere – in people’s mouths, waving around as they gesture, and scattered on the sidewalk where they’ve been dropped.
I can’t exactly block cigarette smoking from Cameron’s reality. I can, however, convey the message that smoking sucks both through overt discussion and less obvious personal attitude. I stand away from smokers at the bus stop, and ask them to leave if they’re in the shelter and it’s raining (bylaw against it, but I only push on it if I have to share the shelter to stay dry). I step around buts on the ground. If Cameron moves to pick on up I make it clear – yucky! It’ll make your fingers stink. That’s gross! I think I’d react about the same way if he went to pick up dog poop.
I started writing this with an aim to explaining why I shouldn’t be bothered by reading a story that involves a fabled, loved, admired character smoking a pipe. I’m failing to convince myself. But realistically, what are my alternatives? Toss the book and look for a version that’s missing that phrase, or at least doesn’t feature pictures of St.Nick smoking his pipe?
No. I’ve got a better idea. I keep reading the story as-is. I make sure to mention, every now and then, that pipe smoking is not good. Santa knows better now – that was a long time ago. Pipe smoking isn’t very common nowadays – at least not the tobacco kind. We see pipes in use now and then, but they’re used for something else.
Oh joy. Here’s a thought. Give him a few years, and he’ll think that Santa’s getting high. That’s a whole different message to be concerned about!