Christmas time is a modern occasion of joy..
Slurping eggnog spiked with rum and eating until you’re unable to move? That’s the American pasttime around the holiday season—and then the New Years guilt and resolutions to lose your new found weight is an annual tradition.
But, as the article linked here describes, another tradition that has existed for ages was to tell ghost stories on Christmas..
Kira Cochrane of the UK GUARDIAN writes this to describe humanity’s long love of telling ghost stories around this time of year:
Christmas has long been associated with ghosts, says Roger Clarke, author of A Natural History of Ghosts: 500 Years of Hunting for Proof. Just before Christmas 1642, for instance, shepherds were said to have seen ghostly civil war soldiers battling in the skies. This connection continued in the Victorian era through Dickens’s story, and through the ghost stories he later published at Christmas in his periodical All the Year Round, with contributors including Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Gaskell. It would also continue in the tradition started by MR James, the provost of King’s College, Cambridge, who would invite a select few students and friends to his rooms each year on Christmas Eve, where he’d read one of the ghost stories he had written, which are still popular today. They include Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book (1895), in which an ancient holy book brings forth a demonic presence, first announced by a hand covered in “coarse black hairs, longer than ever grew on a human hand; nails rising from the ends of the fingers and curving sharply down and forward, grey, horny and wrinkled”.The popularity of ghost stories was strongly related to economic changes. The industrial revolution had led people to migrate from rural villages into towns and cities, and created a new middle class. They moved into houses that often had servants, says Clarke, many taken on around October or November, when the nights were drawing in early – and new staff found themselves “in a completely foreign house, seeing things everywhere, jumping at every creak”. Robbins says servants were “expected to be seen and not heard – actually, probably not even seen, to be honest. If you go to a stately home like Harewood House, you see the concealed doorways and servant’s corridors. You would actually have people popping in and out without you really knowing they were there, which could be quite a freaky experience. You’ve got these ghostly figures who actually inhabit the house.”
We have lost so much with the disappearance of this tradition! I call for a renaissance!
Telling ghost stories around this time of year appears to be a lost tradition. These days, we trample each other at malls and break glass doors for expensive Air Jordans that we cannot afford. But that aside, it would be sacrilegious in modern times to tell such haunting tales around the Christmas dinner table.. 50% of us celebrate the birth of Christ (though it probably would not have even happened this time of year) and the other 50% celebrate the modern rituals of present buying and giving. Ghost stories aren’t found within that celebration.. No time for the paranormal with those numbers.
We did borrow the Christmas tree and SO MUCH MORE from the pagans.. but for some reason, we ended the tales of horror in our newer centuries..
But that was then.
Now it’s all about fun, joy, peace, and harmony. Little thrown in of scary or weird….paranormal or other-worldly. And it seems we miss out on so much with the absence of the paranormal..
A website I follow, SPIRITDAILY.COM, had a small article on its site today concerning the ‘thin veil’ this time of year.. Of course the site had a religious bent on the argument, but it’s certainly worth considering nonetheless:
Fascinating it is that a number of mystics through the centuries have cited Christmas Day — not All Souls’ Day, or any other time — as when the greatest number of souls are released from purgatory. This was stated, we are informed, by the great doctor of the Church, Saint Teresa of Avila
While I do not contend my theories or ‘feelings’ are ever correct or a representation of anything but bizarre mental manifestations, I have long felt that two times of year were always filled with mystery: One being Halloween, and the other being Christmas. I recall nights when I was a child, especially Christmas Eve night, where I felt something mysterious in the air..something strange around me. Something like a presence—not necessarily a negative entity, but just another ‘element’ that I could not understand with my five senses. Did the pagans and others get it right.. does the veil thing? Those old ghost stories are not without purpose, they were just a way for people to express their fears of the darkness without shining light. You could argue that such ghost stories in the Victorian Age being popular was because they simply lived in scary times—gas lamps that lit the way for some with prestige and money, but darkness at night for the rest of the troubled lot.
Joy and love and peace could not be found on radio stations, and often so many younger children died from pestilence and disease, Santa Claus was not as busy as he is now.
But I still say there is something else to the story. I think there is a deeper and more profound reason that so many tall tales were expressed this time of year in centuries past. And maybe it’s because we, as humans, have a connection to a sixth sense.. maybe we have a deep affinity for the unexplained because we as humans are a PART of that unexplained. Why are we here? Ghost tales make sense of our existence in some way, because it gives credence to an afterlife. Yes, maybe spirits get trapped here, but at least we ‘go somewhere.’
Though we have an absence of the fireside chats during Victorian times, there are a few paranormal tales that withstood the test of time. Charles Dickens’ classic A CHRISTMAS CAROL is one of them, with a series of ghosts coming back to haunt a living man to scare him into being nice.. Some of the past film adaptations of CHRISTMAS CAROL were downright scary, and even the black and white versions of the story haunted me as a child,such as SCROOGE from 1935.
Some other stories from my lifetime that still keep the ‘creepy’ in Christmas: The GREMLINS was able to successfully utilize horror and holiday music, grounding up gremlins while DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR played .. that scene shaped my childhood dreams.. There were also some other badly made seasonal horror flicks, like SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT, and CHRISTMAS EVIL. Even IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE has a paranormal theme. An angel coming to save a suicidal man before he ends it all..
Even the GRINCH THAT STOLE CHRISTMAS was scary.. and the idea that an ever-knowing Santa watches children when they sleep doesn't really give me a deep down calm feeling either.
And finally, there could be something else scary about this time of year. Besides the ‘veil thinning’ and the pagan acknowledgement of death during winter, it’s just a scary time altogether! .. New years is coming—one calender year over, of course calenders are man made but that doesn’t make them any less foreboding. Aging is scary.. not knowing what the next year will bring is also scary. We become victims to our paranoia and fear…and maybe that is why the Victorian Age was filled with so much of it..
There is, after all, lots to be actually scared of. Yes, then it was sickness and darkness, but what really has changed? The news media informs us almost daily that a big accident may soon happen to our entire grid, leaving parts of the United States dark for ‘years.’ We are equally warned about diseases that are not being killed off anymore by antibiotics. While we don’t dress with Victorian attire, we can attest that our fears are often the same as they were during our past. That’s the common bond in the human race. We surely don’t all get happy about the same things but that’s not true about fear. Deep down, we all fear the same things.. and ghosts represent the mystery and high strangeness that humans cannot explain.
So I say we bring back ghost stories! Let’s get the fire warm, open some gifts..drink up some spirits, and tell some tales about weird creatures and sounds bumping in the night.
Keep the Christ in Christmas. And keep the creepy, too.
If not, Santa may not stop by this year, but instead give us the ghost of CHRISTMAS FUTURE—and if you recall that was the scariest spirit of them all..