Scary ghost stories and tales of the glories

Brown Lady

This Christmas you’ll no doubt be inundated with Mannheim Steamroller and Burl Ives tunes via SiriusXM, lines for Holiday Spice Flat Whites at Starbucks, Die Hard 1 & 2 (Die Harder!) reruns on U-verse, and the cheers of the audience at Star Wars: The Force Awakens in your local theater. Oh, and also observe time-honored traditions like driving around to look at Christmas lights, visit Santa at the mall, and watch A Christmas Story off-and-on for 24 hours straight.

At Christmas I tend to think back to Christmases as a kid. I can probably pinpoint each year based on favorite gifts I received from Santa, with these glorious presents standing-out in my memory in no particular order:

Its fun to think that kids today completely geek-out over a Kylo Ren action figure, or declare that Leo is their favorite turtle on Christmas morning knowing full well that I did just about the same thing when I was their age.

Along with other favorites, I also think of the song The Most Wonderful Time of the Year by Andy Williams:

I can’t remember at what point it dawned on me that the lyrics touch on telling scary ghost stories at Christmastime, but it wasn’t until I was a young adult, and now I think it’s a fun little bit of Christmas trivia to remind people about.

“What?! Telling scary ghost stories at Christmas?! GTFO”

No, really! That was a tradition! According to a Glasgow University Library Special Collections entry:

“Although an entire Christmas issue of a periodical devoted to ghost stories may seem unusual, it was in fact a common feature in the Victorian period for there to be at least one ghost story included in the Christmas edition of many popular periodicals. From the 1840s, publishers were able to produce cheaper special Christmas reading for the aspiring middle classes such as Christmas supplements and special editions of serials and magazines. Charles Dickens’ twopenny weekly Household Words, launched in 1856, always had a short story in its Christmas issue; this was, more often than not, a ghost story. He also wrote Christmas ghost stories for its successor All the Year Round.

Ghost stories were an integral part of the Victorian Christmas. Read around the fire, they were a popular home amusement in those households that could not afford the expense of the theatre or concert going. Many stories were specifically written for such evening entertainment. The ghostly tales of M.R. James (1862-1936), for instance, were originally composed for reading on Christmas Eve at King’s College, Cambridge; they were first published as Ghost Stories of an Antiquary in 1904. Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927) wrote “whenever five or six English-speaking people meet around a fire on Christmas Eve they start telling each other ghost stories”

The tradition of the Christmas ghost story (albeit probably not now told round a roaring fire) is still with us, as epitomized by the enduring popularity of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, (1843) with its many adaptations on film, television and stage. Dickens himself perhaps best encapsulates our enjoyment of the classic Yuletide ghost story in his preface to A Christmas Carol:

I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

While most of us probably don’t think about scary ghost stories at Christmas, there is definitely a tradition of it! Today, Stormtroopers and Foot Soldiers likely stir little imaginations a bit more than tales of chain-rattling ghosts in old Victorian houses. However, for you folks who dare to challenge tradition, I wanted to share with you one of my favorite ghost stories that perfectly captures the spirit of scary ghost stories at Christmas – Thurnley Abbey by Perceval Landon, written in 1908. Also, I’ve even added an audio book version for you folks that would rather hear it read aloud (w/ a British-y accent, no less!):

With that, I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season filled with scary ghost stories told ’round a crackling fire with the ones you love, and memories that will one day be looked back on as the Christmas glories from long, long ago!

Merry Christmas!


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