Did you know that one of the longest-standing Christmas traditions (dating back to at least the Victorians) is the reading and telling of ghost stories on Christmas Eve?
It might seem odd at first, but there are two very mainstream instances of this that might better bring it to your awareness. The first is Charles Dickens’s famous novella A Christmas Carol, published in 1843 but still much read today. (And watched, since numerous movies have been made of it as well.) In fact, this story is so popular that many people think it to be the origin of Christmasy ghosts, when in fact Dickens was simply cashing in on an old tradition – though his story’s success greatly revived both the tradition and the holiday itself.
You might also recognize Christmas ghosties making an appearance in the lyrics of the ever-popular holiday song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” If you listen closely, you’ll pick up:
“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 Christmases long, long ago.”
Surprised? I was too, at first. I learned about this tradition in the book I’m currently reading, a collection of ghost stories by M.R. James. James apparently wrote these spooky stories to read to his friends on Christmas Eve.
Naturally, being the avid little goblin that I am, this sounds like a wonderful tradition. I would love to start it in my own house, but I don’t think you need to be the aficionado I am to get in on this. Not convinced that Christmas and ghost stories go together? Here are some thoughts I have as to why it actually fits beautifully.
Christmas (or the holidays in general, as this particular tradition is not religiously tied as far as I can tell) is about family, love, and togetherness. In today’s world, we’re oversaturated with media and entertainment. How many nights do we spend sitting on the sofa staring at screens? That’s usually not being together; that’s just being alone in the same room. Turn off the screens, though, and people start interacting again. They make eye contact, brush hands, laugh with each other instead of just at the same time.
In my mind, the tradition goes like this: Everyone in the house gathers around the fire after dinner, once the night has gotten cold and dark and the coziness of flames and company is appreciated once again. The listeners all snuggle up with blankets and eggnog or hot mulled cider, and the teller weaves (or reads, if not creatively inclined) tales of suspense and supernatural hauntings. The brave and foolhardy will laugh and poke fun and pretend not to be scared – which is always great fun – while the timid giggle nervously and scoot closer together – even more fun.
Before you know it, the evening is spent with words and laughter, everyone is sprawled across the floor with droopy eyes, and all are sent to their beds happy and content – if a little tightly wired. Isn’t that what the holidays are all about?
Also, Christmas is always right around the winter solstice, which is the longest night of the year. What night could possibly be more filled with ghosts? The night of the solstice could give Halloween a run for its money, as far as I’m concerned. For those who believe in the creatures of the night – or life beyond the grave – when else would the veil between worlds possibly be so thin?
Which brings me to the final reason ghost stories on Christmas Eve make perfect sense. Christmas, being a time for family and love, automatically becomes a time of mourning and remembrance for those of us who’ve lost someone important to us – which is most people. Who hasn’t felt the tug of loss or melancholy on the days leading up to Christmas? Who hasn’t cried during the holidays, missing someone whose spirit still seems to linger in our hearts? And what are ghosts if not the memories of those who’ve passed before us?
Whether we welcome them or not, spirits are present around the holidays because we’re human, and humans remember. Not being one to run from my emotions, I say: let’s embrace them. Let’s open our arms, not just to welcome in the thoughts of those we miss, but to gather closer those who are still present in our lives. And if we can revel in a little fun, togetherness, and mischief while we’re at it, all the better.
Wishing you a Merry Christmas, happy holidays, a cozy solstice, or whatever else you’re celebrating this year. May your season be filled with love, cheer, and maybe a ghost or two, too.Share this: