Let's start with a fanciful conundrum: what do drunken racist Liam Stacey, flying Sunderland FC winger James McClean and annually anointed Scrooge, Yours Truly, have in common? The tenuous connection is that each has been subject to encroachments on our freedom of expression and speech - albeit in vastly different ways and on wildly different scales of seriousness.
Let's start with Stacey. The 21-year-old biology undergraduate was jailed earlier this year for tweeting racist obscenities to the Bolton Wanderers footballer Fabrice Muamba, after Muamba had suffered a heart attack on the pitch. Stacey was arrested at the behest of an online lynch mob who, quite rightly, took exception to his behaviour. But to arrest and throw somebody in prison for making unpleasant remarks on a social network is absurd.
Last week, Irish national James McClean took abuse from all sides after he elected not to wear a Sunderland jersey with a poppy sewn into it. It was, the club said, a personal choice. McClean comes from the Nationalist Creggan estate in Derry. Six people from Creggan were killed by British soldiers in the Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972, a fact that was surely in McClean's thinking when he made his decision.
But regardless of the logic, anybody who opts out of wearing a poppy should have his or her decision respected, as should those who do wear one. For a number of years, though, November has brought with it a deluge of poppy Nazis, determined to force their will on others, unaware of the irony emanating from the fact that the armies they're remembering fought wars across the world to "protect the freedoms" and choices of others.
So where do I fit in? Well, every year, around the time the clocks go back, I usually start feeling a bit angsty. I think it stems from the twilight of my teens, when I spent my holidays stacking shelves, with my head surrounded by tinny, piped-in carols. For weeks at a time, I'd wake up finding bits of tinsel up my nose. The dislike has grown with age.
I've grown acutely aware of what Christmas really represents. It's far from a baby in a manger or a time for utopian family reflection. It's a mindless stampede of expenditure - a badly dressed race to the fiscal cliff. And this year, it's going to get worse. Christmas 2012 will, they say, cost 10 per cent more than 2011's edition. Mince pies alone are up a whopping 22 per cent. Over 10 per cent of us will still be paying for Christmas well into 2013.
The official national response to the latest Snowman-lite advertising offering from John Lewis - wet eyes, empty wallets - has been tough enough to stomach. But can you really argue that Christmas is anything but a crass money-spinner when you learn that hedge funds around the world are betting on it to fail. Lansdowne Partners, one of London's top funds, has made a £163 million bet on Tesco's share price dropping over the season. US hedge fund star Jim Chanos has a 2.52 per cent short position on ASOS, meaning he expects the online retailer's value to drop significantly.
And yet, if you try to raise these concerns in a social situation, you'll be shouted down from on high. You'll be the cynical one. "Where's your Christmas spirit?" is the usual response - despite the fact that it's mid-November. Professing distaste for mulled wine is professional suicide. I recently spoke to the boss of Finland's national export agency, who continually kept trying to steer the conversation back to the "fact" that Santa Claus lives in Finland.
I've come to the conclusion that it's simply unacceptable to dislike Christmas - the festive centrepiece of our censure-happy society. And while it's frivolous to compare this form of gagging with the gravity of those above, the fact that my grumbles have become more muted every year is indicative of the fact that our society is becoming less comfortable hearing what it doesn't want to. Happy Christmas, yer arse.