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There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago

The title of this post is a line from a famous Christmas song that you undoubtedly have heard *(maybe too much?*) yet again this year..


 


Andy Williams’ classic IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF YEAR has a series of nostalgic verses about the season our calenders currently inhabit.. The most wonderful time of year, he concludes with his melody.. But that one line, that ‘scary ghost stories’ reference, has often been overlooked and ignored..

Some may think Williams is talking about Charles Dickens and his CHRISTMAS CAROL, Scrooge’s ghosts of the past present and future coming to haunt in the dead of night..

But the story goes much deeper. That one line in a song lyric has much more meaning for the season than anyone really understands.



On this website, I talked a lot about Krampus, that pesky demonic figure who scares the goodness into kids this time of year. This year he’s the star of a movie. And we also focused on those scary ghost stories..

For those who think the paranormal notions take a break after Halloween winds down, think again.. It just begins. And Christmas was the season of high strangeness, spooky occurrences, and bumps in the night that could not be attributed to elves or Santa’s quest to find a chimney..

 

It’s pagan origins–the Yule log, the evergreen, the lit candle in a window–are all documented. Santa and Krampus used to travel as good cop and bad cop.. Even before Fox News declared that there is a ‘war on Christmas,’ many puritans in America did not even want Christmas to be celebrated. They did not like burning human sacrifices .. they did not log the phallic image of the Yule log. They did not appreciate fearing the ghosts of the night as winter’s brutal chill set in…

 

But as time went on, the Puritans lost.  Some may say the pagans eventually won, despite the Nativity scene and idea that Christmas is the time to celebrate Christ’s birthday, most of the ‘bad’ stuff from the pre Catholic era stuck around.

Roger Clarke authored a book titled A NATURAL HISTORY OF GHOSTS: 500 YEARS OF HUNTING FOR PROOF.. He detailed why the Victorian age became the prime time for paranormal tales to be woven by people around the holiday season..

 

The UK GUARDIAN’s Kim Cochrane explained this in a 2013 article profiling Clarke’s book:
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.”

The fondness of telling ghost stories around warm December fires also struck another author, one from a longer time ago.. Jerome K. Jerome said this in his book TALES AFTER SUPPER in 1891:
Whenever five or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories. Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about specters.

The idea of ghost stories was common–very common as a matter of fact.. the relics of that time still haunt, to a degree. But any memory has been tamed and watered down through the ages..

 

And think of this: Even if you keep the Christ in Christmas, that is paranormal just in itself.. Imagine the notion of a woman going about business, being told by an entity from beyond this world that she will give birth to a paranormal savior who will eventually die but rise from the dead and open the door to another realm..  If you believe in the Christian idea of Christmas, you must conclude that you wholeheartedly have faith in the paranormal and believe in it..



The veil is thin on Christmas.. as a matter of fact, some mystics through the ages have cited Christmas, not All Souls’ Day or any other time, as the prime time moment for the thinnest of the veil.Even a 19th century nun named Saint Teresa of Avila stated just that..

 

The Victorian age was in itself quite scary–the problems which manifested themselves often went unexplained.  Science was beginning to explain some, but not all events.. Those shadows Clarke described were common.. The ghost tales that Jerome wrote about were frightening. Krampus would also show up from time to time, beating children with a stick for unruly behavior throughout the year..

 
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.




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 a few Christmases ago 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.. This year add KRAMPUS to that mix of bizarre tales.


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..


# # #

When I was a child, I fondly recall a few traditions that, at the time, seemed a bit bizarre and other-worldly. We had and still somewhat maintain a Christmas eve ‘Holy Supper,’ a Ukrainian traditional dinner of seven fishes. Before dinner began, the youngest of the family–at that time me–would have to knock on the door of the house with a candle and a statue of the baby Jesus and ask if there was room in the inn.  The lights of the house would be off. Those inside would allow entrance and I’d slowly walk in a dark passage with the lit candle and statue..  After dinner, my family would attend a midnight mass. I always recall a large crowd of people.. I also recall being very short at that age, and mostly sitting in the rear of the church. That ensured I would not see a priest, but instead as a young child, I thought the voice was coming from the rafters itself. It probably did not help much that this Church, Saint Ignatius in Centralia, PA, was the location of my first paranormal moment as a young child when I heard whispers coming from an empty confessional during a very dark night.

All of this said, I think there is something innate in humans to recognize Christmas as a paranormal time, a moment when we are close to the spirit world and the thin veil shreds into non existence for a time..

Santa Claus is even paranormal–he can sweep across the globe and enter homes across the planet, sparing enough time to throw down some presents and even eat about 25 million cookies and glasses of milk. Even the reindeer have time for carrots. We tell our children at an early age to believe in something paranormal, to put faith in something hopeful. Adults who laugh at the notion of Santa then go to church on Christmas morning and sing about another paranormal moment when an angel impregnated a women with God’s son.. Even more, the whole notion of December 25th being chosen is under the guise that it was a pagan celebration..

It’s all connected.
It’s all paranormal..
This is the time of year to suspend logic and happily comply with the other realm…
Just not Krampus.
He’s the one to avoid during the darkest night of the year…..

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