Bah Humbug: a List of Censored Christmas Stories

Banned and Challenged Books, Censorship

By: Rebecca Slocum

Books are challenged or banned for all sorts of ridiculous reasons. The Diary of Anne Frank was once challenged at a school in Alabama for being “a real downer”. Little Red Riding Hood was removed from a reading list in California because parents were concerned about the bottle of wine in Red’s basket sending the wrong message to kindergarteners. And (and as a Texan, I’m embarrassed for my state on this one), the Texas Board of Education once banned the popular children’s book Brown Bear, Brown Bear because a completely different author of the same name, Bill Martin, wrote a Marxist book, and I guess they didn’t want five year olds getting confused between the two?

There will always be silly reasons for attempting to ban a book, but I would have thought that there wasn’t anything to challenge about holiday books. I mean, Santa, reindeer, twinkly lights, Hallmark movies, present exchanges, good will towards men? What is there to object? However, as it turns out, I was wrong; there are attempts to challenge books about the most wonderful time of the year. Bah humbug!

cover of Santa Claus Around the World by Lisl Weil

Santa Claus Around the World by Lisl Weil

This non-fiction children’s book explores the idea of Santa Claus in different cultures. While the American version of Santa is a fat, jolly elf with rosy cheeks and a penchant for cookies, he is not always such a friendly figure throughout the world. In parts of Austria and Germany, St. Nick works alongside a demon-like figure, Krampus, who carries a switch to beat the naughty children and carry them down to the underworld. Some parents at a Texas elementary school deemed this legend too terrifying for children and attempted to remove the book for its Krampus reference.

Alt text: cover of The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore

A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore

You may know this poem by its classic first line: ‘Twas the night before Christmas. I know. I KNOW. How can you find fault with this Christmas staple? Well, in 2012, a Canadian publisher objected to the 19th century poem’s depiction of Santa smoking. She even released a revised version that omits the lines, “The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, / And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;” and changed the cover illustration of Santa smoking his pipe. The publisher believes that Santa Claus should not be setting a poor example for children in the 21st century. The ALA, in regard to the revision, argued that such an omission is “an act of censorship that denies the audience access to the author’s authentic voice,” and instead, suggested that parents use the previous common vernacular as a stepping stone to speak to their children about such issues.

Alt text: Cover of Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs

Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs

This 1973 children’s book features a familiar looking Santa, with his long, white beard and red suit, but this Santa Claus is not exactly jolly with a childlike demeanor. In fact, this Santa might have more in common with us adults reading the story to children. This Santa is a regular, working man who is just chugging along with the daily grind; only Santa’s daily grind is getting ready for the busy Christmas season. Rather than a merry old man, he is more of a warm-hearted curmudgeon, grudgingly delivering gifts to the various houses around the world and taking breaks throughout his “workday” to eat the snacks left out for him. Father Christmas was removed from all elementary classrooms in Holland, Michigan in 1979 because parents thought Santa was too negative about Christmas, and for the mention of a bottle of brandy Santa receives as a gift.

Alt text: Cover of The House Without a Christmas Tree by Gail Rock

The House without a Christmas Tree by Gail Rock

This children’s book features Addie, a 10 year old girl who lives in Nebraska with her widowed father. Her dad, who is bitter and sad about his wife’s death, refuses to have a Christmas tree in their home. This year though, Addie is determined to have a true Christmas and convince her father that they should have a Christmas tree. While I haven’t read this one, it seems like one of those sweet, small town holiday stories that warms even those hearts two sizes too small. However, heartwarming isn’t everything, apparently; this story was challenged for its use of the word “damn”. I think we can just chalk this one up to life in the 1940’s.

Rebecca Slocum

Rebecca Slocum has worked in education as a teacher and library consultant for the last 5 years and is a recent MLIS graduate student from the University of North Texas. She is interested in issues involving intellectual freedom, censorship, and collection development in school libraries. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys reading, writing, running, and roaming the world. Currently, she stays at home caring for her son and writes at her blog, The Dewey Decimator. Find her on Twitter @bcslocum.

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