Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I Wouldn't Have Thought This Before Having Kids: A Poem, Santa, and the Pipe

A friend recently sent me a link to a blog post in Education Week that lamented the updated version of the poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” A Canadian publisher apparently edited out the two lines about St. Nicholas’ pipe and smoke.


The blog post called the poem “bowdlerized” and argued that in the effort to remove the smoking from the 1823 poem by Clement Clarke Moore, the publisher had denied students the opportunity to investigate the context of the situation and gain “critical literacy”.

Santa with a pipe. Let’s discuss.

It was only a few weeks ago that I read a pop-up book version of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” to my four-year-old. She was so upset by the page with the pop-up Santa and pipe that I not only bowdlerized the poem, I defaced the entire page, ripping the tiny paper-pipe out of Santa’s mouth and tearing it to pieces. I then walked to the trashcan, dumped the tiny white pieces of the paper-pipe into it and said to my daughter:

“He’s not smoking anymore.”

Santa, however, also has a cookie problem. He’s overweight and eats more than a billion cookies in one night. My seven-year-old no longer fully believes in him, but she’s expressed concern about his bad habits and poor health.

And that speaks to what I see as the deeper issue behind the pipe and the edited version of the poem: St. Nicholas, aka, Santa, is not limited to being a character in literature. Many of us have introduced him to our children as a flesh and blood creation. He enters our homes and leaves presents. Kids admire him. Call it affection or call it self-interest, many have a concern for his well-being and their relationship with him.

There is a difference between what is mass-produced for literary consumption and what I do to a pop-up book at 8pm on a weeknight. And there’s a difference between what is read in school and what is read at home and how we present material for children of different ages. But I do not think we can so easily align this particular situation with the larger one of keeping literature as it was written. I think this relates to how we foster a child’s imagination and how we integrate mythology into our evolving social world.

For young kids who still believe in Santa, why would I value the pipe more than I would the meaning their protestations signify? It means they are doing what we want them to do: integrate the new with the old; blend what they know to be true with what they must take a leap of faith to believe. This extends beyond Santa.

I would not replace Rudolph with a LED headlight; but I do not find it offensive to remove an object children view as harmful from a person we’ve asked them to embrace. If we profess to value literature then how can we lose sight of the very significance of Clement Clarke Moore’s poem? It brought the man in the red suit to life.

It’s harder being human than it is being a character in literature; especially when four-year-olds will accept your astonishing feats, but not your second-hand smoke.

Chalk this one up for something I’d never have thought before having kids….

My post this week on The Educated Mom looks at the question of holding kids back from kindergarten. I invite you to hop over there if you’re tired of hearing about Santa.

1 comment:

Lunch Box Mom said...

A friend recently sent me a link to a blog post in Education Week that lamented the updated version of the poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” A Canadian publisher apparently edited out the two lines about St. Nicholas’ pipe and smoke.