#Creepmas Day 7- Ghostly Christmas Tales

There'll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories of
Christmases long, long ago 
~It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

That line always confused me when I was a kid. Ghost stories? For Christmas?

I never connected it to the fact that I watched A Christmas Carol (some version of it, usually Mickey's Christmas Carol) every year- you know the Charles Dickens' classic that features....wait for it...ghosts. 4 ghosts to be precise. The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future and Jacob Marley.  The classic Christmas tale is 175 this year. First published on December 19, 1843.

Turns out Dickens wrote quite a few tales of holiday spirits and he's not the only one. Telling ghost stories for Christmas was once quite the thing to do.

“Whenever five or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories,” wrote British humorist Jerome K. Jerome as part of his introduction to an anthology of Christmas ghost stories titled “Told After Supper“ in 1891. “Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about specters.” ( Desert News December 23, 2010)

It was quite common to gather on Christmas Eve to tell ghost stories in Victorian times.  For much of the 19th century Christmas was associated with ghosts and specters.

"Telling ghost stories during winter is a hallowed tradition, a folk custom stretches back centuries, when families would wile away the winter nights with tales of spooks and monsters. “A sad tale’s best for winter,” Mamillius proclaims in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale: “I have one. Of sprites and goblins.” And the titular Jew of Malta in Christopher Marlowe’s play at one point muses, “Now I remember those old women’s words, Who in my wealth would tell me winter’s tales, And speak of spirits and ghosts by night.”" (Smithsonian.com December 15, 2017)

Eventually Halloween took over as the night of darkness and ghostly tales. When Irish and Scottish immigrants brought Halloween customs to the United States Americans preferred tales of ghosts and goblins over other cultural aspects of the people and their holiday.

But "the transition from Christmas to Halloween as the preeminent holiday for ghosts was an uneven one. Even as late as 1915, Christmas annuals of magazines were still dominated by ghost stories, and Florence Kingsland’s 1904 Book of Indoor and Outdoor Games still lists ghost stories as fine fare for a Christmas celebration: “The realm of spirits was always thought to be nearer to that of mortals on Christmas than at any other time,” she writes." (Colin Dickey Smithsonian.com December 15, 2017)

If you think about it, ghost stories at Christmas makes perfect sense. 

"When the night grows long and the year is growing to a close, it’s only natural that people feel an instinct to gather together. At the edge of the year, it also makes sense to think about people and places that are no longer with us. Thus, the Christmas ghost story. Its origins have little to do with the kind of commercial Christmas we've celebrated since the Victorian age. They’re about darker, older, more fundamental things: winter, death, rebirth, and the rapt connection between a teller and his or her audience. But they’re packaged in the cozy trappings of the holiday." (Smithsonian.com December 23, 2016)

Many of us think about family members long gone during the holidays, perhaps more so than any other time of year. The "ghosts of Christmas past"  make us nostalgic, sad, whimsical, and sometimes down right spooked. 

The days are short and the nights long. Imagine a time before electricity when the nights were endless and pitch black. Scary things lurk in the darkness. People were superstitious and terrified.

In days of old, Yule, the longest night of year celebrated on the Winter Solstice, was a time when the dead had better access to the living. Old myths and legends of the winter holidays are full of ghosts, witches, fairies, elves, goblins and demons. It was a season of darkness filled with all things spooky.

By the Victorian era and the industrial age gas lamps brought more light to the night and it was safer to speak about what could be lurking outside in the darkness. People would get a thrill out of scaring each other. Ghost stories were a way to entertain.

The twentieth century evolved Christmas into a bright commercial celebration of presents and Santa Claus. Twinkling lights tore the holiday away from its dark roots and made it a season of merriment.

But in the twenty first century we see a resurgence of interest in the old ways. More people want to know the stories of "Christmases long, long ago" including those tales of Christmas Spirits. It's time to resurrect the dead tradition of Christmas ghost stories.

The New York Public Library blog published a piece about Dickens in 2014, it listed these other creepy Christmas tales by Dickens. You may be able to find them at your local library. A couple are free for your kindle on Amazon. There are several anthologies full of creepy Christmas tales including The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories, Volumes One, Two and Three.

The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In (Christmas 1844)

This strange tale revolves around a wedding, an orphan, an evil rich man, and some frightening goblins. Or was it all a dream, resulting from our protagonist Trotty Veck having had too much tripe at dinner?

The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home (Christmas 1845)

Almost as popular as A Christmas Carol in its time, this tale includes a mysterious man in disguise, a dog named Boxer, some possible infidelity, a young blind heroine, a nanny, and—of course—a cricket.

The Battle of Life: A Love Story (Christmas 1846)

Perhaps only Dickens could offer up a happy ending to this troubling tale of a missing sister and a sinister elopement scheme, all set on a one-time battlefield that still bears the relics of a host of dead men and horses.

The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain: A Fancy for Christmas-Time (Christmas 1848)

In this tale, a gloomy chemistry professor says things like, “Another Christmas come, another year gone. . . More figures in the lengthening sum of recollection that we work and work at to our torment, till Death idly jumbles all together, and rubs all out.” But when his wish to forget his distressing past is granted, he gets more than he bargained for.

Details for It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
Songwriters: Eddie Pola / George Wyle
It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year 
lyrics © Demi Music Corp. D/B/A Lichelle Music Company

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