The long lost tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas
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Yes, telling ghost stories at Christmas is a tradition. No, it’s not just those of us that are paranormal-obsessed. Telling ghost stories around the holidays is a tradition that goes back way further than A Christmas Carol, with its ghost of Christmas past. Maybe it’s just because we’re all together; maybe it’s the sense of nostalgia. But there’s definitely something there.
And maybe it makes sense. We’re with our loved ones. We’re remembering friends and family and talking about our shared histories. When people gather, they tell stories and revisit the past—and of course, we all love to scare each other. But the connection between the spirit world and Christmas time is a little bit deeper than that.
The darkest day of the year
Winter solstice is the darkest day of the year—the time when the veil between the worlds is thought to be the thinnest. Some believe that this may help blur the line between the living and the dead—that spirits may have particularly good access to the living during the darkest day of the year. Christians chose December 25th for good reason—there is a parallel between the pagan celebrations of the death and rebirth of the sun and the birth of a savior. Perhaps the undead were celebrating at Christmas time before there was a Christmas to celebrate.
A very Victorian Christmas tradition
All of this said, Victorian Christmases had a strong tradition of gathering around a fire and telling ghost stories. It’s a tradition that has disappeared from our modern Christmas repertoire of baking and singing and decorating trees, but British literature is full of scary Christmas stories. British humorist Jerome K. Jerome wrote an introduction to an anthology of Christmas Ghost Stories, “Told After Supper,” in 1891. He said that whenever five to six English-speaking people met around a fire on Christmas Eve, they would tell ghost stories. We even sing about the tradition in “The Most Wonderful Time Of the Year,” which contains the line “There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.”
For some reason, of all of the traditions we’ve kept from the Victorian era of Christmas, this is one that has died off. Yule logs, Christmas trees, and carols have all withstood the test of time, but rarely do people sit around those fires and lights and try to scare the pants off of each other.
So, if you should choose to watch A Christmas Carol and spend some time visiting old ghosts, you wouldn’t be the first. And we’re definitely here for a Christmas ghost story resurgence.