Why do we tell ghost stories at Christmas?
Why Christmas ghost stories? What is the allure of telling scary ghost stories at Christmastime? The tradition goes back to the days before most people could read.
Winter is a scary time of year. The days grow short, the nights grow long, and the world goes through a strange transition as living things tunnel under the earth and prepare for their rebirth in the spring. While the earth may look dead on the outside, it is in fact teeming with change, preparing for the new life to come once the snow has thawed.
The Winter Solstice—the longest night of the year—occurs on December 21, just a few days before Christmas. Many use this period of time to reflect upon their shadow selves—the darkness that lies within. For many more, these days represent the unseen, the unknowable, and the supernatural. The longest, darkest night of the year is the perfect time to talk about ghosts.
But why Christmas ghost stories?
In days before electricity and widespread literacy, people’s work days would be cut short by the encroaching nights, and they would gather around the fire for warmth and tell stories to keep themselves entertained. And, of course, the dark cold nights were the perfect time for ghost stories.
While so many oral traditions have been lost through time, the Christmas ghost story has not, thanks in large part to the Victorians. Improvements in printing and increased literacy sparked widespread publication of ghost stories around the holidays, and the public gobbled them up. But this love for the macabre didn’t just stem from the Victorian’s memories of telling ghost stories in the past; this was a time of great technological change, and people were fearful of what that meant for God and country. Remember, this is also the time period that produced classics such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. So it’s no wonder that the industrialized population would gobble up ghost stories alongside their Christmas goose.
And how about today? Why do we still crave scary stories this time of year? The reasons have not changed, and we are still as human as our ancient counterparts. We know the world is changing, transitioning from life to death to life again. We feel the chill in the air. We see our breath in the dwindling sunsets. And we know, next to the twinkling tree and the glittering presents, the shadows, and the ghosts, are near.