Are We Sitting Comfortably? The Tradition of the Christmas Ghost Story

Are We Sitting Comfortably? The Tradition of the Christmas Ghost Story

Hello all and a Merry Christmas!

Let’s just do some quick business stuff first, I will be doing a New Year’s post again this year, but much like with last year, it may be after the fact, but hopefully I will have a moment to sit and bash something out. If not, you will all be getting a bit of a blow by blow of how myself and The Young Bohemians ring in 2019, in New Years 2: Electric Boogaloo: The Taskmaster 7. And yes, that is what it is called.

As well as that I have some really exciting Cosplay Journal news coming up in January, which I am really looking forward to sharing (I think you’re going to like it)! Anyway, let us get back to the Christmas delivery! I hope all your presents are wrapped, you tree is trimmed and your wine mulled to perfection. Not long to go now. I know I have done none of this because I am an old Scrooge who celebrates Christmas in their own way, but there are some Christmas traditions that I cannot go without, and it is time, once again, to dive into one of these wonderful, festive customs.

Ah, what would Christmas be without ghost stories. Ghost stories? Isn’t that Halloween? No, no, no my dear friends, except yes sort of but I’m doing this for effect so just roll with it. No, Christmas is the best and most perfect time for stories that make your skin crawl, your hair stand on end and that chill to run all the way up your spine. The dead of winter, just after the longest day, when the darkness is at its deepest, you gather around the hearth and listen as the mystery of what lies out there in the dark unfolds in the flickering flames before you.

Ghosts

I think you all get it and, sure, I’ve posted about this before, but I LOVE ghost stories. They scare me silly, but I love them. I love them so much, in fact, I spent most of this week binging BuzzFeed Unsolved because they just tell the best ghost stories on there (also they make me laugh). Because we must remember that ghost stories are not horror. They are never there simply to make your stomach turn or scare you for the sake of being scared; no ghost stories are to horror, what fairy tales are to fantasy, they are entertainment with a purpose. So much like any folk or fairy tale, ghost stories serve a dual intent, meaning that predominantly these stories end up as morality tales. They are told to instruct in some way, be that not to go out in the dark on your own, or that we should be better people. And there is no better way to drive a lesson home than scaring you so badly it stays in your brain forever.

Ah yes, there is nothing quite like a Christmas tale of chills, thrills and learning to be a good person or the spirit world will get you, to warm the heart.

Sure, in our modern world we associate these stories with Halloween, because we now link them more with horror, but in days gone by they are part of many different winter celebrations, including Christmas. Unfortunately, a lot of that was lost in the UK when good old Oliver Cromwell decided that Christmas was too gosh darn fun for a good puritanical country and banned all celebrations to do with it. But not to worry, as with pretty much everything we now call Christmas, the Victorians are here to save us, and this tradition from being lost to the ages due to one blip in British history.

In 1843, that heavy weight of Victorian literature, Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol which to this day remains one of the most loved Christmas stories of all time. The tradition of storytelling at Christmas had been all but snuffed out when Mr Dickens published his tale of life, death and festive cheer, and A Christmas Carol reenginated the British public’s thirst for spooky stories for the Christmas season. Dickens himself published four more ghost stories, as well as the short story The Signalman (a personal favourite of mine). But even prolific Charles couldn’t give the readers all they wanted, ghost stories were new in thing for Christmas – eat your heart out furbies – and many authors took up the mantle of storyteller.

Marley's ghost appearing to Scrooge. Illustration for Charles Dickens (1812-1870) A Christmas Carol, London 1843-1844

As much as Dickens may have revived the tradition, it is MR James who must be called the master of it. My own family has a well thumbed edition of his collection of winter ghost stories that we read from every year, every time a new, terrifying tale being read aloud for us all to cuddle close a listen to – yes, I do live in an Enid Blyton novel, why do you ask? – and these stories are truly deserving of the word, scary. I can still remember the hair hands that crept from the book in the bell tower, and the eyes that stared out the paintings. These are beautiful, vivid stories that both make you want to listen more, and run and hide at the same time. I highly recommend them to anyone looking to bring this tradition into their own home.

I know that many will prefer a light, bright, merry Christmas, with life affirming films such as Elf or Snowman but, there is something to be said for enjoying the darkness around you, leaning into it a little.  The quiet skill of storytelling has become lost in our modern age of TV specials and Christmas releases, so why not try and introduce it? Let the story take you, let it lead you were it may and maybe it will change you in someway, as all the best stories do, but if nothing else, a good ghost story really does make you appreciate the twinkle of the tree just that bit more.

If you do want to try this out, then I highly recommend MR James Ghost Stories as mentioned above, as well as The Turning of the Screw and of course all of the Dickens ones if you haven’t already read them! If you weren’t quite ready to leap into storytelling yet, then Mark Gatiss is bringing his own modern tale to the BBC this Christmas.

You can now follow me on Instagram @lilistprince and on twitter @lilistprince. Links in the footer as well.

I will be posting all and everything that comes into my head on both of these, and chatting about life as a nonbinary person and a good amount of cosplay thrown in too. Oh and robots.

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‘Olly Out!

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Written by Holly Rose Swinyard

 

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