Ho ho ho: 600 pipe-puffing Santas and counting : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Ho ho ho: 600 pipe-puffing Santas and counting

by William C. Nelson

So many obsessions begin modestly, with just a dabble and nothing more intended. It was at a Kmart in 1988 that pipe smoker and “since forever” Pipes and Tobaccos subscriber Neil Strong purchased a single porcelain Santa Claus figurine. To Strong, this Santa seemed Santa1especially endearing and worthy of a loving home just because of the pipe the artwork depicted. It was natural enough that a pipe smoker and collector like Strong, who is also a lover of all things Christmas, would wish to add a pipe- smoking Santa to the Yuletide décor of his southwestern Ohio home.
Strong, now 72, a retired office manager with Armco Steel Corp., could hardly have appreciated what he was getting himself into. As this case proves to the nth degree—now that Strong’s collection of Santas brandishing pipes has grown beyond 600 specimens, with no sign of stopping—the acquisition of pipe-smoking Santas can be, let us say, habit-forming. It’s a habit that’s becoming harder to satisfy. Readers of this journal can attest to the sustained assault under which the ordinary person’s freedom to pipe smoke has for years been shrinking. But did you know that even Santa’s liberties are under siege? Publishers are writing the pipe-smoking lines out of “’Twas the Night Before Christ- mas”! That one famous poem, otherwise known as “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” and most often attributed to the work of Clement Clarke Moore in 1823, probably did as much as any work to popularize in the American imagination the picture of a pipe-smoking Santa. Even as early as 1809 we have Washington Irving writing, in his satirical History of New York, how a “good St. Nicholas came riding over the tops of the trees, in that self-same wagon wherein he brings his yearly presents to children. …And he lit his pipe…” and “the smoke from his pipe ascended into the air and spread like a cloud overhead.”
So anti-tobacco scolds who would have their children never spy any jolly old saint holding a pipe need to know they are bucking the very considerable weight of history. Even so, a noisy Santa2minority keeps up the crusade, and St. Nick is hardly alone among cultural icons having their pipes rudely snatched from them. The effrontery got rolling decades ago. Many of us will recall with a grimace the indignity to which Mr. Potato Head was put in 1987, forced as he was, in full view of the public, to relinquish his pipe to a looming, owlish Surgeon General C. Everett Koop at a press event staged by the toymaker Hasbro. That was but a warning shot. By now, a very long list could be made of images and personages any seasoned adult grew up with—and not just in America—that have quite unnaturally gone smoke-free. Today, even the formidable Sherlock Holmes stands bereft of the pipe we all know perfectly well goes to the very heart of his character. Not yet willing to give up nicotine entirely, the Holmes served up to us on television today wears nicotine patches, proclaiming he’s nursing a “three-patch habit.” The insidious revisionism is too precious by half.

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Category: Feature Article, Other Stories, Winter 2015

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