Ho, ho, ho, Santa's not the top dog after all

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By and large, I try to avoid paying much attention to polls, especially during election season.

Polls confirm that while many Americans have an opinion, others do not, and some "aren't sure, could you repeat the question?"

Despite my low opinion of pollsters (motto: No Question Too Silly), a Public Policy Polling survey recently caught my interest.

Here is how the PPP describes the poll on its website:

"Last month PPP found that Green Bay Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was viewed favorably by 89 percent of voters in Wisconsin, a record high level of popularity in all our polling across the country. It got us to wondering -- can anyone top that?"

The short answer is yes, but it's a short list. The "figures with near universal appeal" that the PPP sacrificed on the altar of public opinion included Mother Teresa, Ghandi, Jesus Christ and Santa Claus.

Surprisingly, only 67 percent of Americans view Santa favorably. My first thought was, "Yes! I'm not alone!"

It's a dangerous thing to admit, but I feel I can finally come clean: I've never liked Santa. Apparently 33 percent of Americans agree with me.

I guess I've just never really understood Santa's appeal. The idea of a fat, hairy guy sneaking into my home at night to eat my cookies just didn't sit well when I was a kid. In fact, it still doesn't, (but now that I'm old enough to buy my own hunting license, I would encourage Santa to drop by. I hear reindeer are quite tasty.)

I'm not a big fan of the whole "behavior police" thing either.

If you're going to have rules, make them clearly defined and easy to understand. Santa's idea of "naughty or nice" is pretty nebulous, and obviously subjective. Any kid who is forced to sit through post-Christmas show-and-tell knows what I mean.

I remember kids in my class who were the epitome of naughty, kids who smoked, told dirty jokes and drew anatomically preposterous pictures on bathroom walls, would haul out really impressive Christmas loot. It was a cruel thing to do, but then, that was the point.

I, on the other hand, lived in the sort of household where, if my parents even caught me talking to the kind of kids I just mentioned, I would be grounded on principle: mostly the principle that my folks needed the help around the farm. I also didn't get a lot of presents that weren't on the "necessities" list.

It always made me wonder where Santa got his definitions of naughty and nice. Possibly "I'm OK, You're OK" or "Identifying and Understanding the Narcissistic Personality."

Not that I'm complaining. My folks did pretty well with what they had, and I can't blame them for wrapping up underwear, socks, extra pencils and kindling to beef up the pile under the tree.

"Oooh! Look!" my mom would say, "Now you won't have to bring in wood for the fire!"

The best part was, I knew there was at least one really great present hidden in the pile, and as I opened each gift in succession, the tension would build. Would it be a new BB gun? A pocket knife? A new fishing pole?

Whatever the "Great Gift" was, I knew my parents had worked pretty hard for it. Santa, on the other hand, always struck me as a kind of a lazy sweatshop owner.

And despite the cost, it wouldn't matter if I had been naughty or nice all year. Not that my parents weren't strict. I had chores each day and schoolwork. I was expected to be polite and work hard.

But my folks never sat down and tallied up how often I did my chores versus how often I hid under my bed so I could finish my latest Hardy Boys mystery. I was their kid, so they made the effort to make Christmas special.

There's probably a lesson in there about the real meaning of Christmas, as opposed to Xmas, for example. Or, maybe I just don't like Santa Claus because my dad encouraged me to pull off his beard every year.

Luke Hegdal can be reached at lukehegdal@wwub.com or 526-8326.

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