A Plea To Resurrect Christmas Ghost Stories

NH Civil War Gal

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The transition from Christmas to Halloween as the preeminent holiday for ghosts was an uneven one. Even as late as 1915, Christmas annuals of magazines were still dominated by ghost stories, and Florence Kingsland’s 1904 Book of Indoor and Outdoor Games still lists ghost stories as fine fare for a Christmas celebration: “The realm of spirits was always thought to be nearer to that of mortals on Christmas than at any other time,” she writes.


For decades, these two celebrations of the oncoming winter bookended a time when ghosts were in the air, and we kept the dead close to us. My own family has for years invited friends over around the holidays to tell ghost stories. Instead of exchanging gifts, we exchange stories—true or invented, it doesn’t matter. People are inevitably sheepish at first, but once the stories start flowing, it isn’t long before everyone has something to offer. It’s a refreshing alternative to the oft-forced yuletide joy and commercialization; resurrecting the dead tradition of ghost stories as another way to celebrate Christmas.


In his Harper’s editorial, Howells laments the loss of the Dickensian ghost story, waxing nostalgic for a return to scary stories with a firm set of morals:


“It was well once a year, if not oftener, to remind men by parable of the old, simple truths; to teach them that forgiveness, and charity, and the endeavor for life better and purer than each has lived, are the principles upon which alone the world holds together and gets forward. It was well for the comfortable and the refined to be put in mind of the savagery and suffering all round them, and to be taught, as Dickens was always teaching, that certain feelings which grace human nature, as tenderness for the sick and helpless, self-sacrifice and generosity, self-respect and manliness and womanliness, are the common heritage of the race, the direct gift of Heaven, shared equally by the rich and poor.”
 

NH Civil War Gal

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I must admit I've never heard of a tradition of ghost stories at Christmas (seems to me Easter is more the religious ghost story).

What sort of ghost story would be considered a "traditional" Christmas one ? As my mother used to say: "give me a for instance."

Charles Dickens, "A Christmas Carol" is one. I HIGHLY recommend the Alistair Sims 1938 edition. It's in B&W and I think is the best done Dickens and Sims is a master actor.

I came upon this article by Molly Hanson:

"As the carousel of endless holiday songs pervades the backgrounds of our lives this time of year, you might have noticed a peculiar line that goes: "There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago." It's heard in Andy Williams's 1963 holiday classic "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," as the singer lists off festive traditions associated with the holiday.

As it turns out, gathering around a fire to share ghost stories was actually a beloved Christmas tradition in the late 1800s into the early 1900s. Frigid temperatures and long nights were considered the best conditions to share grim stories. "Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about specters," wrote British travel writer and humorist Jerome K. Jerome in the introduction of his 1891 anthology of Christmas ghost stories, "Told After Supper."

The most famous example is, of course, Charles Dickens' 1843 tale, "A Christmas Carol." In the holiday classic, originally titled "A Ghost Story of Christmas," four phantoms visit the curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge to scare his greedy soul straight. The supernatural literary hit was inextricably bound to the heritage of holiday ghost stories in Britain. American author Henry James cemented the eerie tradition into U.S. culture when he published his story "The Turn of the Screw" in 1898. The novella about a chilling series of supposedly ghostly events that befall a young governess begins with men gathered around a fire sharing spooky stories on Christmas Eve. The American goth legend Edgar Allan Poe, also set his unsettling poem "The Raven" in "the bleak" month of December.

The tradition lingered until the early 20th century with magazines regularly running ghost stories in their Christmas issues."

Calling @Eleanor Rose I think she knows something about superstitions at midnight on Christmas Eve with telling fortunes. Personally, I don't believe in doing it, but I have seen it referenced in a couple of BBC shows where the episode is set in the 1930s and on a Christmas Eve.
 

Grant's Tomb

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In the Andy Williams song the Most Wonderful time of the year, the line in the song "There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long long ago", what that just referring to A Christmas Carol or are there other Christmas ghost stories that we're not aware of?
 

Grant's Tomb

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Is the the part of It's a wonderful life where Clarence shows George what life in Bedford Falls would be like if he had never been born a Christmas ghost story even if the rest of the film isn't?
 

LoyaltyOfDogs

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As it turns out, gathering around a fire to share ghost stories was actually a beloved Christmas tradition in the late 1800s into the early 1900s....
The tradition lingered until the early 20th century with magazines regularly running ghost stories in their Christmas issues."
In the Andy Williams song the Most Wonderful time of the year, the line in the song "There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long long ago", what that just referring to A Christmas Carol or are there other Christmas ghost stories that we're not aware of?
I'm not aware of any ghost stories other than "A Christmas Carol" that have been passed down as Christmas stories, but the writer Henry James was apparently familiar with the Christmas ghost story tradition. He uses that setting as the device to introduce "The Turn of the Screw," his own famous ghost story that was published in 1898. It begins at Christmas with a group of friends hearing the end of one ghostly tale and calling for another. One gentleman haltingly refers to a frightful episode that his sister's governess experienced many years ago. He says she passed the story on to him in the form of a manuscript, so he sends to town for the document and, when it is finally retrieved, shares it with his audience. That plot device, the story-within-the-story that's meant to convey a semblance of truth, wasn't unique to James, but it's so effective that we still use it today. Has anyone ever sat beside a campfire listening to a storyteller providing local "facts" to embellish a spooky legend and make it seem real?
 

NH Civil War Gal

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Well, as one of the articles said, Christmas Eve was the time to tell grisly and morbid tales.

This is from Hamlet:

Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes

Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,

The bird of dawning singeth all night long;

And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,

The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,

No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,

So hallowed and so gracious is the time.


(I, ii, 157)

And I think that's why spooky stories and fortune telling was done on Christmas Eve. The season "was so wholesome."
 

captaindrew

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Charles Dickens, "A Christmas Carol" is one. I HIGHLY recommend the Alistair Sims 1938 edition. It's in B&W and I think is the best done Dickens and Sims is a master actor.

I came upon this article by Molly Hanson:

"As the carousel of endless holiday songs pervades the backgrounds of our lives this time of year, you might have noticed a peculiar line that goes: "There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago." It's heard in Andy Williams's 1963 holiday classic "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," as the singer lists off festive traditions associated with the holiday.

As it turns out, gathering around a fire to share ghost stories was actually a beloved Christmas tradition in the late 1800s into the early 1900s. Frigid temperatures and long nights were considered the best conditions to share grim stories. "Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about specters," wrote British travel writer and humorist Jerome K. Jerome in the introduction of his 1891 anthology of Christmas ghost stories, "Told After Supper."

The most famous example is, of course, Charles Dickens' 1843 tale, "A Christmas Carol." In the holiday classic, originally titled "A Ghost Story of Christmas," four phantoms visit the curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge to scare his greedy soul straight. The supernatural literary hit was inextricably bound to the heritage of holiday ghost stories in Britain. American author Henry James cemented the eerie tradition into U.S. culture when he published his story "The Turn of the Screw" in 1898. The novella about a chilling series of supposedly ghostly events that befall a young governess begins with men gathered around a fire sharing spooky stories on Christmas Eve. The American goth legend Edgar Allan Poe, also set his unsettling poem "The Raven" in "the bleak" month of December.

The tradition lingered until the early 20th century with magazines regularly running ghost stories in their Christmas issues."

Calling @Eleanor Rose I think she knows something about superstitions at midnight on Christmas Eve with telling fortunes. Personally, I don't believe in doing it, but I have seen it referenced in a couple of BBC shows where the episode is set in the 1930s and on a Christmas Eve.
I agree with you with the Allistair Sims version, it's all of our favorite here, we all watch it Christmas Eve every year.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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This is from Jerome K. Jerome

"Why on Christmas Eve, of all nights in the year, I never could myself understand. It is invariably one of the most dismal of nights to be out in—cold, muddy, and wet. And besides, at Christmas time, everybody has quite enough to put up with in the way of a houseful of living relations, without wanting the ghosts of any dead ones mooning about the place, I am sure.


There must be something ghostly in the air of Christmas—something about the close, muggy atmosphere that draws up the ghosts, like the dampness of the summer rains brings out the frogs and snails.


And not only do the ghosts themselves always walk on Christmas Eve, but live people always sit and talk about them on Christmas Eve. 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 spectres. It is a genial, festive season, and we love to muse upon graves, and dead bodies, and murders, and blood."
 

Kurt G

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Charles Dickens, "A Christmas Carol" is one. I HIGHLY recommend the Alistair Sims 1938 edition. It's in B&W and I think is the best done Dickens and Sims is a master actor.

I came upon this article by Molly Hanson:

"As the carousel of endless holiday songs pervades the backgrounds of our lives this time of year, you might have noticed a peculiar line that goes: "There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago." It's heard in Andy Williams's 1963 holiday classic "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," as the singer lists off festive traditions associated with the holiday.

As it turns out, gathering around a fire to share ghost stories was actually a beloved Christmas tradition in the late 1800s into the early 1900s. Frigid temperatures and long nights were considered the best conditions to share grim stories. "Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about specters," wrote British travel writer and humorist Jerome K. Jerome in the introduction of his 1891 anthology of Christmas ghost stories, "Told After Supper."

The most famous example is, of course, Charles Dickens' 1843 tale, "A Christmas Carol." In the holiday classic, originally titled "A Ghost Story of Christmas," four phantoms visit the curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge to scare his greedy soul straight. The supernatural literary hit was inextricably bound to the heritage of holiday ghost stories in Britain. American author Henry James cemented the eerie tradition into U.S. culture when he published his story "The Turn of the Screw" in 1898. The novella about a chilling series of supposedly ghostly events that befall a young governess begins with men gathered around a fire sharing spooky stories on Christmas Eve. The American goth legend Edgar Allan Poe, also set his unsettling poem "The Raven" in "the bleak" month of December.

The tradition lingered until the early 20th century with magazines regularly running ghost stories in their Christmas issues."

Calling @Eleanor Rose I think she knows something about superstitions at midnight on Christmas Eve with telling fortunes. Personally, I don't believe in doing it, but I have seen it referenced in a couple of BBC shows where the episode is set in the 1930s and on a Christmas Eve.
A slight correction . Alistair Sim's was in 1951 . I agree , the absolute best version.
 

mofederal

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Dickens wrote another ghost tale called the The Signalman: A ghost story for Christmas. First published in 1866 for a special yuletide issue of All the Year Round, Dickens’ “The Signalman” has since fallen into obscurity. An eerie story of isolation, dread, and supernatural visitation, this book is meant to be read aloud on a cold, dark winter night.

The tale of Krampus is a story which is less of a ghost story, and more myth, but it’s perhaps the best-known of the weird Christmas-related legends. Half-goat, half-demonic creature, Krampus is the punisher of naughty children. Draped in chains and bells, he tags along with St. Nicholas during the Christmas season and beats bad kids with birch branches or stuffs them into his sack and hauls them away to his hidden lair in the underworld. Krampus is supposedly the son of Hel the Norse goddess of the underworld. His name comes from the German word for “claw,” krampen, and his legend has been woven into centuries-old German Christmas traditions.






 
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Karen Lips

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Charles Dickens, "A Christmas Carol" is one. I HIGHLY recommend the Alistair Sims 1938 edition. It's in B&W and I think is the best done Dickens and Sims is a master actor.

I came upon this article by Molly Hanson:

"As the carousel of endless holiday songs pervades the backgrounds of our lives this time of year, you might have noticed a peculiar line that goes: "There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago." It's heard in Andy Williams's 1963 holiday classic "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," as the singer lists off festive traditions associated with the holiday.

As it turns out, gathering around a fire to share ghost stories was actually a beloved Christmas tradition in the late 1800s into the early 1900s. Frigid temperatures and long nights were considered the best conditions to share grim stories. "Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about specters," wrote British travel writer and humorist Jerome K. Jerome in the introduction of his 1891 anthology of Christmas ghost stories, "Told After Supper."

The most famous example is, of course, Charles Dickens' 1843 tale, "A Christmas Carol." In the holiday classic, originally titled "A Ghost Story of Christmas," four phantoms visit the curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge to scare his greedy soul straight. The supernatural literary hit was inextricably bound to the heritage of holiday ghost stories in Britain. American author Henry James cemented the eerie tradition into U.S. culture when he published his story "The Turn of the Screw" in 1898. The novella about a chilling series of supposedly ghostly events that befall a young governess begins with men gathered around a fire sharing spooky stories on Christmas Eve. The American goth legend Edgar Allan Poe, also set his unsettling poem "The Raven" in "the bleak" month of December.

The tradition lingered until the early 20th century with magazines regularly running ghost stories in their Christmas issues."

Calling @Eleanor Rose I think she knows something about superstitions at midnight on Christmas Eve with telling fortunes. Personally, I don't believe in doing it, but I have seen it referenced in a couple of BBC shows where the episode is set in the 1930s and on a Christmas Eve.
I wonder why telling ghosts stories was a tradition at Christmas time? Does anybody know!
 

RobertP

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I’ve never heard of it either and guess I never questioned why Andy Williams sang the phrase “scary ghost stories”. It must have been a regional thing. Interesting.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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You were actually half right, @NH Civil War Gal. There is an old classic version of "A Christmas Carol" from 1938. It stars Reginald Owen. I vaguely recall seeing it years ago. The later version with Alistair Sim is more entertaining and memorable.
I actually own that! It is interesting to watch but the Sims version is much better.
 
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