I’m not against Christmas or a follower of the Yule Anti-Santa Rule, but the other day I rounded the corner in a local store where a semi-life-size, motion-detector-equipped Santa waited to spring a boisterous “Ho, ho, ho!” at me. I understand the intent is festive and cheery, but to me the effort is annoying and the impact rather creepy, hearing humanoid laughter as if I were in a horror movie with an ugly-faced clown toy in an upper bedroom and a basement none should ever enter, but you know they will, starting with an empty-headed youth who has never experienced a thought or one of the cast’s several cute girls.

Having grown up in a house where a boy had to stay in motion to avoid being flocked or garlanded, I much appreciate moderation in Holiday Cheer. A hint of “White Christmas” or “Silver Bells” softly in the background is perfectly tolerable along with a small show of baubles or string of outdoor lights, if you must. Each year I look at the decorations that go up, down, and then away, and I think how uncommonly happy much of the Orient must be to have us annually demented in a fashion, keeping underpaid workers in China busy and Bangladeshi makers of elf hats plying their needles. If we were descriptive about it, we might have to call Christmas the season of making third-world nations slightly more prosperous, though at our breeding rate we are never able to pull ahead in that race. Poverty wins because it reproduces at a rate far faster and numerically stronger than that of prosperity. Think of it. If poverty is a pit and prosperity is a pinnacle, which is easier to accomplish?

The tradition and transformation of Saint Nicholas is almost as amazing as the Christmas season itself. Nicholas was a Greek bishop fairly early on in the history of Christianity. We can assume Nicholas was generous and became more so at Christmas. But if you think of the Greek part of the world, just how many images of chimney flues big enough for a person come to mind? You’re done with that soon, aren’t you, because there are none. Also, I doubt you’ll find reindeer fitting into the Greek world, along with sleighs and snow.

There’s a name change or shift as well from or between Saint Nicolas of Myrna into Santa Claus of the North Pole. At the origin time of the legend, I’d warrant most early Christians had never heard of Poland (though I believe the Roman empire at the time of Caesar knew it as Polonia and placed it beyond Germania) and less yet of a North Pole, seeing as that was a time when the earth was considered flat and at the center of what we call the solar system, based on knowing it’s not the terra system once believed. Then there are the elves. Is there anything less Greek or Roman than elves living on the North Pole, where they operate a toy workshop and tend flying reindeer? Flying creatures have a nicely mythological ring that could be Greek or Roman, but also Egyptian—they held that the vault of stars was the body of the goddess Nut.

There’s not much logical connect between St. Nick and Santa unless the Claus was a rival bishop, say in Gaul, who wanted to shine equally with the Nick and started embellishing on the theme in lands where a large chimney shaft could be found. But truly, the flues are a problem for us, because if you need a large flue for a fireplace, you do so for the heat of their fire for cooking and warmth. Even a saint should know better than to drop down a chimney into a fire. It is the worst way to enter. Straight down—if the fall doesn’t get you, the fire will. A rivalry within the early church makes sense in explaining the development of holiday traditions, some transformations being easier to follow than others, such as the Happy Christmas of Tudor England becoming the Merry Christmas of later times, or the Season’s Greetings of the easily intimidated of today. Really, if someone feels insulted or offended by seeing or hearing “Merry Christmas,” I feel sorry for their narrowness of feeling and see no reason to encourage it further or give it legitimacy that makes “Bah, humbug!” the best we can do for one another.

This will sound mean-spirited on my part and not in proper tune with the season, but how do others know they are acting stupidly if we don’t tell them? A personal prejudice against the words “Merry Christmas” should not become the law of the land in a free country, where inoffensive statements should not be judged otherwise. I politely suggest that those searching for insult and offense look elsewhere than “Merry Christmas.”

Even going with the Christmas flow, the season is not entirely easy or peaceful. I recall some of the best Chicago family battles springing up over the holidays and not being replaced by new feuds until the next holiday. In all cases, vodka or a convenient substitute played a decisive role in feud making and breaking. As a kid, I saw it like having “Wild Kingdom” in the front room when two uncles went at sparing like a pair of walruses on a cobble beach. Our move to Minnesota meant an end to that sort of wildlife adventure. Family entertainments were replaced by hunting for the perfect tree for Mother and trying to find a pear tree wherein a partridge might light. The peak of my teen years’ holiday accomplishments was a trio of partridge in a spruce tree. I stayed outdoors or in my room as much as possible to escape the threat of flocking, but also because the rest of the work list was impossible. I knew with certainty that I’d not find sufficient lords a-leaping or maids a-milking. Even if I shifted from turtle doves to morning, I was a full season off.