Now it is no secret that I read scary things all year around but when it comes to Christmas I just want one thing: ghost stories. Now I know it is a bit odd, images of ghosts really don’t mesh with jolly old Saint Nick and Christmas trees, but is it really that strange? …..Historically no. In fact one of the most popular Christmas songs even references it. In the lyrics of The Most Wonderful Time of the Year it has the line:
There’ll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow
There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories of the
Christmases long, long ago
Now this song originally came out in 1963 but painted the image of the perfect Victorian traditional Christmas. It probably isn’t a surprise that the Victorians had this Christmas tradition, it was the era of the ghost story, but why at Christmas? Well, that explanation for that is older than the Victorians.
Fact Alert: Christmas originally wasn’t Jesus’ birthday. I am sorry if that bugs some people but it is the historical truth. We don’t actually know when Jesus’ was born. They didn’t have birth certificates back then and they certainly didn’t have Facebook so we cant do a sneaky date check like you do every year when you want to make sure you didn’t forget your mum’s birthday. We just don’t know. The date for Christmas was set at this time to include the various non Christian religions (aka pagan) around at that time. Christians wanted to encourage them to convert so they set their holidays around the same time as theirs, and it isn’t just Christmas, the same goes for Easter and All Souls (aka Halloween). All of those festivals are older than when Jesus popped up.
So, what does this have to do with ghost stories? Well, it is to do with the Winter Solstice. Christmas is close to the darkest day of the year and that was a day when people thought the dead could come back more easily and pay us a visit. Doesn’t that sound a little like another Holiday we all love:
Naturally this belief started the practice of telling ghost stories during the Christmas period.
Fast forward a few thousand years to the Victorians and their creation of the modern Christmas and you have ghosts worked into almost every Christmas story from that time. It wasn’t just to be creepy either. Christmas is the perfect time to think about dead loved ones and Christmases past, and to the death obsessed Victorians those thoughts led to the creation of more ghost stories.
People would even have parlour games where seances would be held or they would take turns at trying to think up a story and see who can scare their friends the most. This is how Frankenstein was created.
Sadly the tradition of the Christmas ghost story died out in the modern era. People are only interested in the shiny happy side of Christmas rather than trying to balance it out with a side of scares. It makes me a little sad because on a cold dark night there is nothing better than a good ghost story. The nights in winter are even darker than they are on Halloween so it is a perfect time for it. So this is why I keep the tradition going.
What are your thoughts? Would you like to see this tradition come back? Also I am tempted to write more history based posts like this, what do you think?