Stephen Colbert had some thoughts on the matter in November, only he was louder and funnier.
“Santa can't quit smoking,” he bellowed on his Comedy Central show, holding back a laugh. “He needs that vice. You try dealing with the stress of delivering the world's toys in a single night. We're lucky he's not doing a pa rum pum pum pum of coke off Blitzen's a**.”
McColl said she's trying to offer one option among dozens of versions of the rhyme that helped launch Santa Claus as an icon. She wants to shake up complacency over tobacco addiction and believes the pipe and rings of smoke around his 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.
“To them, Santa's not some historical guy,” McColl said from Portland, Ore., where she recently finished nearly a full year on the road. “He's a real character. He's a real person coming down the chimney, and he's smoking. That's what a 3-year-old thinks like.”
McColl said she ran into supporters during her travels, including children who fret about Santa's health. Smoking, she said, is something Clement C. Moore, a churchgoing academic, also wasn't fond of. He once called tobacco “opium's treacherous, villainous friend.”
A Troy, N.Y., newspaper published the poem anonymously in 1823 as “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Moore, who lived in Manhattan with his wife and six children, claimed the work in 1844, though some historians think Henry Livingston Jr. was the true creator.
Moore presented the New York Historical Society, of which he was a member, with a handwritten manuscript of the poem and it resides there today, along with a boxful of about 20 book versions of the work that now includes no-smoking Santa, donated by McColl.
“I think it reflects the times, so we were amused by it,” said Mariam Touba, the society's reference librarian.
Among the courtesy stops for McColl during her walkabout promoting the book was a visit in October to the American Academy of Pediatrics in Chicago. The group of about 60,000 doctors said the book “was not reviewed or considered by our leadership in any official way,” but McColl insists that “Public health loves this book.”
A much easier endorsement stop was the advocacy group Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, based in Berkeley, Calif.
“The intent of this heartwarming story about Santa Claus and Christmas remains intact despite the omission of the smoke,” said the group's executive director, Cynthia Hallett. “My guess is many children will not notice the absence of the 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.
What's next, Colbert asked? Kale chips and coconut water instead of cookies and milk? “This political correXmas,” he said, “must be stopped.”