Although most of us think of ghost stories during Halloween, in Victorian times, that was only the beginning of the season of the dead.
Jeffrey Peterson wrote in 2010 for the Deseret News that “the practice of gathering around the fire on Christmas Eve to tell ghost stories was as much a part of Christmas for the Victorian English as Santa Claus is for us.”
Peterson reminds us that one of my favorite Christmas songs “It’s the Most Wonderful time of the Year,” a 1963 classic by Andy Williams, mentions “There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.”
Many stories and tales from the Victorian era often make references to ghosts at Christmastime:
M.R. James wrote his first collection of ghost stories, “Ghost Stories of an Antiquary” published in 1904 to be read on Christmas Eve. “A Ghost Story for Christmas, a series of British short television films broadcast on BBC One from 1971 to 1978 based its first five installments on ghost stories by M.R. James.
Jerome K. Jerome published an anthology of Christmas ghost stories in 1891 called “Told After Supper.” In his introduction, he states, “Whenever five or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling ghost stories. Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about specters.”
Although many of us include Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” in our Christmas celebrations, the tradition of gathering with family and friends on Christmas Eve to tell ghost stories has pretty much died out.
Pagans celebrate the longest night of the year, the winter solstice, as a time when the barrier between the world of the living and the deceased is thinnest, and lamps and lights were kept burning all night long to ward off dark spirits. The Victorian Christmas was based on this celebration that observed the winter solstice, symbolizing “the death of light and the subsequent rebirth the following day.”
Those of us who enjoy reading a good scary story or watching a good ghost tale on television or in movie form at about any time of the year, are doing our part to continue the Victorian Christmas Eve tradition by partaking of a bit of horror over the holiday season.
Some of my suggestions at this time of year include the book by Dean Koontz called “Santa’s Twin,” the
“Tales from the Darkside” episode with E.G. Marshall called “Seasons of Belief,” and Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost.”
References and additional information: