It’s Christmas Eve, the fire is roaring, food and drink are plentiful and while it may blizzard outside, we huddle in the warmth. A log splits, the candle sputters and it’s time for a scary story.
Mention Christmas ghosts and immediately Scrooge springs to mind. However, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is only one story in a much broader genre of scary festive tales, with offerings from the likes of M.R. James and H.P. Lovecraft to name but two.
This tradition, while practiced in the victorian era, was not a product of that time. Although Victorians admittedly seem to excel at the creepy, the tradition dates much further back. A thorough discussion offered by Gothic Horror Stories suggests the practice dates to at least the sixteenth century, further back in time even than Shakespeare’s A Winter Tale to Christopher Marlow’s writing of 1589.
But I had to wonder, just how far back in time does this tradition go? A brief search through the library and it seems some authors date the practice back to the Vikings. Bruce David Forbes writes in Christmas: A Candid History, “It is likely that Viking Jul [Yule] also involved ancestor worship, beliefs about the return of the dead and ghost stories.” In particular, the wild hunt.
In the depths of winter, winds howled outside and blizzards raged across the dark northern skies. All knew these sounds marked the coming of the wild hunt. Known as Asgardsreid (Asgard’s ride) or Gandreid (spirit’s ride), the wild hunt was nothing less than an army of the dead. For the peoples of the north, the terrifying sounds of winter gales came from those who had died during the year as they roared through the freezing nights, led by Odin atop his flying eight-legged horse.
Fires were lit and yule logs burned, not only for warmth but to drive away evil spirits. Drinking, it seems, was profuse and required. And the long winter nights were whiled away with the telling of tall tales.
Wherever the tradition of telling scary Christmas tales originates, I think it’s a fantastic practice to observe. While the Victorians may have restricted the telling of Christmas ghost stories to Christmas Eve, I’m inclined to make it a month long marathon. So, build a fire, pull up a chair, get the kettle on (or fill your drinking horn) and enjoy a spooky festive season. Here are a few suggestions to get you started. I welcome additions and will add them as the season progresses.
Wishing one and all, a very spooky advent.
Spooky Advent Calendar:
December 1st – Christmas Ghost stories from Derbyshire: https://youtu.be/g0kFSLh-bzg
December 2nd – Number 13 by M.R. James, read by Christopher Lee: https://youtu.be/yV84nXzZrkA
December 3rd – A Strange Christmas Game, by J. H. Riddell
December 4th – The Festival by H.P. Lovecraft https://youtu.be/QMxVpvoB7yc
December 5th – Rare Exports (Finnish Film – Santa has been buried. And for good reason…) https://youtu.be/9RQlikX4vvw
December 6th – A Christmas Horror Story (It’s Krampus. Film Trailer) https://youtu.be/XSSSUbB-mYk
December 7th – Smee, by A. M. Burrage
December 8th – The Curse of the Cat People (Film Trailer) https://youtu.be/8O0hWTAyEXA
December 9th – Between the Lights, by E. F. Benson
December 10th – Christmas Re-union, by Sir Andrew Caldecott
December 11th – The Kit-Bag, by Algernon Blackwood
December 12th – The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James https://youtu.be/hRXhX2yVAVU?list=PLE44C496429AA4C99
December 14th – A spooky Wisconsin ghost story, retold by S.E. Schlosser
December 15th – The Signal Man a short ghost story by Charles Dickens part of the A Ghost Story For Christmas (1971 TV Series)
December 16th – A Xmas Story For BBC Collective read by Mark E Smith https://youtu.be/4ZZ8m8I2kE4
December 17th – Lost BBC Ghost Story (1978). A Child’s Voice by David Thomson. https://youtu.be/1mrVaEebdVw
December 18th – The Stone Tapes, by Nigel Kneal https://youtu.be/vtvJWKaDI9s
December 19th – The Tractate Middoth, by M.R. James https://youtu.be/o1HCkAQj-WE
December 20th – The Winter’s Tale, by William Shakespeare performed on BBC3 radio https://youtu.be/mfJlD5Yvphc
December 21st – Christmas Meeting, (1952), by Rosemary Timperley in Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghosts. Suggested by @Nachtdufter
December 24th – Shadows in the Fog, by Nigel Hillpaul http://www.hjblenkinsop.com/shadows-in-the-fog/
Colin Fleming Ghosts on the Nog: http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2014/12/19/ghosts-on-the-nog/
Gothic Horror Stories Christmas Ghost Stories: The Ghost of Christmas Past Goes Further Back Than You Might Realize: http://www.gothichorrorstories.com/classic-gothic-ghost-stories/christmas-ghost-stories-the-ghost-of-christmas-past-goes-further-back-than-you-might-realize-2/
Bruce David Forbes (2007) Christmas: A Candid History
Jane Struthers (2012) The Book of Christmas
Image credit: released under Creative Commons CC0 into the public domain by pixabay.com