Join Our Magical Community!
Step through the wardrobe, taste the pomegranate seeds, jump in the fairy ring?
10 Spooky Ghost Stories for Christmastime
December 17, 2019
A few weeks ago, a Smithsonian article by Colin Dickey called “A Plea to Resurrect the Christmas Tradition of Telling Ghost Stories” was making the rounds on Facebook. To our surprise, it seemed like most people weren’t aware that Christmas ghost stories were a thing in Victorian England… a BIG thing! This is what happens when you forget not everyone has an unhealthy obsession with 19th-century Britain :P. And while there are a few little hints of it in today’s world – mainly via the many, MANY adaptations of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (we maintain The Muppet Christmas Carol is the best) and scraps of lyrics like “there’ll be scary ghost stories” in the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – the vast majority of the Western population no longer connects Christmas with ghost stories at all. And our man Colin is right – that’s really a shame. So, we are BRINGING THEM BACK!
To understand why Christmas was traditionally a time for ghost stories you have to look at the various connections the celebration of Christmas has to the Celtic celebration of Yule, the winter solstice and the darkest night of the year. While, like Halloween and Samhain, these connections are not perfect (and Yule certainly didn’t “turn into” Christmas), there are still significant borrowings that should be considered. What’s most important here, however, is that the winter solstice is yet another liminal time, a time of the year when the veil between worlds is thin – this makes it, therefore, a perfect time for ghosts. This belief, coupled with the fact that it simply gets darker earlier, makes the end of December the prime (and traditional) haunted storytelling time.
While telling ghost stories in the dark of the year has been popular for centuries, Christmas ghost stories were wildly popular in Victorian England, especially in periodicals and as part of oral tradition. Dickens’ classic work was by no means the only ghost story going (though it was, as Dickey argues, perhaps the most sentimental and therefore lasting.) But ghost stories appeared all over the place, some much better than others of course, but all intending to inspire at least a small shiver. Dickens was also a huge editor of Christmas ghost stories. He believed that “Christmas Eve [… is the] “witching time for Story-telling” and frequently included ghost stories in the magazines he edited. Interestingly, women contributed a huge proportion of these Christmas ghost stories. Scholars have estimated that as much as 50-70% of all nineteenth-century ghostly fiction was written by women (Carpenter and Kolmar, Ghost Stories by British and American Women )!
So why were the Victorians so obsessed with ghosties? (And it wasn’t just ghost stories – they also had fads for holding seances, picnicking in cemeteries, and forming spiritualist and occult societies.) Part of it was the development of a middle class – more leisure time and higher literacy means more people reading! And part of it was that ghost stories offered fantasies of destabilization of the powerful, at a time when the British empire was at its height. And part of it is simply that legends are powerful ways of dealing with anxiety AND having fun, and they always have been!
So here are a few of our favorite Christmas-y ghost stories, some from the Victorian age, some from a bit after. We, like Dickens, believe that this can be a “witching time” for these kinds of tales, and we invite you to join us in just a bit of terror for the season…
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843)
The most famous Christmas ghost story of them all! Obviously we have to start with this one. The miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is thoroughly haunted by three ghosts until he is scared into embracing the Christmas spirit!
“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”
“ The Old Nurse’s Story ” by Elizabeth Gaskell (1852)
A classic gothic Victorian ghost story, replete with ancestral secrets, organ music, and a seriously haunted house.
“I turned towards the long narrow windows, and there, sure enough, I saw a little girl, less than my Miss Rosamond, dressed all unfit to be out-of-doors such a bitter nightcrying, and beating against the window-panes, as if she wanted to be let in. She seemed to sob and wail, till Miss Rosamond could bear it no longer, and was flying to the door to open it, when, all of a sudden, and close up upon us, the great organ pealed out so loud and thundering, it fairly made me tremble; and all the more, when I remembered me that, even in the stillness of that dead-cold weather, I had heard no sound of little battering hands upon the window-glass, although the Phantom Child had seemed to put forth all its force; and, although I had seen it wail and cry, no faintest touch of sound had fallen upon my ears. Whether I remembered all this at the very moment, I do not know; the great organ sound had so stunned me into terror; but this I know, I caught up Miss Rosamond before she got the hall-door opened, and clutched her, and carried her away, kicking and screaming, into the large bright kitchen, where Dorothy and Agnes were busy with their mince-pies.”
“Horror: A True Tale” by John Berwick Harwood (1861)*
The slow-burning suspense of this tale is enough to make your hair curl–or turn white overnight, just like the narrator!
“I have heard since then of the Scottish belief that those doomed to some great calamity become fey, and are never so disposed for merriment and laughter as just before the blow falls. If ever mortal was fey, then, I was so on that evening.”
“Bring Me a Light!” by Jane Margaret Hooper (1861)*
Snow White’s stepmother’s got nothing on the vengeful Lady Henrietta. The story details how her evil deeds poisoned her family home for generations.
“She paced to and fro, turning and returning with savage, stealthy quickness. The day waned, and night began. Her servant came to see if she were wanted, and was sent away with a haughty negative. ‘She is busy with some wicked thought,’ murmured the old woman.”
“The Ghost’s Summons” by Ada Buisson (1868)*
A doctor is hired to witness a man’s final hours.
“Would you be willing to earn a thousand pounds?”
A thousand pounds! His words seemed to burn my very ears.
“I should be thankful, if I could do so honestly,” I replied with dignity. “What is the service required of me?”
A peculiar look of intense horror passed over the white face before me; but the blue-black lips answered firmly, “To attend a death-bed.”
“ The Kit-Bag ” by Algernon Blackwood (1908)
Sara saw the title of this story and thought “Pfft! ‘The Kit-Bag’?” and then read it only to find herself shrieking “Aaaaaargh! ‘THE KIT-BAG!’” This story is a great reminder why it’s a bad idea to defend a murderer.
“It is difficult to say exactly at what point fear begins, when the causes of that fear are not plainly before the eyes. Impressions gather on the surface of the mind, film by film, as ice gathers upon the surface of still water, but often so lightly that they claim no definite recognition from the consciousness. Then a point is reached where the accumulated impressions become a definite emotion, and the mind realizes that something has happened. With something of a start, Johnson suddenly recognized that he felt nervous–oddly nervous; also, that for some time past the causes of this feeling had been gathering slowly in his mind, but that he had only just reached the point where he was forced to acknowledge them.”
“ Between the Lights ” E. F. Benson (1912)
Christmas croquet and hallucinations! What’s not to love?
“Well, let us say for the moment that it was not a dream, exactly, but a hallucination.
Whichever it was, in any case it haunted me; for months, I think, it was never quite out of my mind, but lingered somewhere in the dusk of consciousness, sometimes sleeping quietly, so to speak, but sometimes stirring in its sleep. It was no good my telling myself that I was disquieting myself in vain, for it was as if something had actually entered into my very soul, as if some seed of horror had been planted there. And as the weeks went on the seed began to sprout, so that I could no longer even tell myself that that vision had been a moment’s disorderment only. I can’t say that it actually affected my health. I did not, as far as I know, sleep or eat insufficiently, but morning after morning I used to wake, not gradually and through pleasant dozings into full consciousness, but with absolute suddenness, and find myself plunged in an abyss of despair.”
“The Dead” by James Joyce (1914)
Though technically no ghosts appear, the story is haunted by the memory of a young man long since dead.
“A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
“Smee” by A. M. Burrage (1931)
A variation of hide-and-seek goes awry when twelve players find themselves counting their number as thirteen.
“Have you met the Sangstons? They are cousins of mine, and they live in Surrey. Five years ago, they invited me to go and spend Christmas with them. In was an old house, with lots of unnecessary passages and staircases. A stranger could get lost in it quite easily.”
“ Dark Christmas ” by Jeanette Winterson (2013)
In this contemporary tale, an idyllic Christmas vacation is troubled by the appearance of a manger and footsteps in the empty attic.
“We are lucky, even the worst of us, because daylight comes.
It was a brooding day that 21st of December. The shortest day of the year. Coffee, coat on, car keys. Shouldn’t I just check the attic?
The second set of stairs was narrow – a servants’ staircase. It led to a lath and plaster corridor barely a shoulder-width wide. I started coughing. Breathing was difficult. Damp had dropped the plaster in thick, crumbling heaps on the floorboards. As below, there were three doors. Two were closed. The door to the room above my room was ajar. I made myself go forward.” * These stories, and many more, can be found in the wonderful collection The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories , edited by Tara Moore. As of today, it’s $7.99 on Amazon Kindle, so grab it there or get it from your local library! There are also TWO more volumes after the first!
So which one of these tales did you find the spookiest? Tell us your favorites in the comments, and feel free to share your own favorite ghost stories as well!
- Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
You Might Also Like
Brittany’s Summer Reading Challenge Conclusion
Sara’s Summer Reading Challenge Conclusion
Sara’s Halfway There Summer Reading Challenge Update
One of my favorite authors, Robertson Davies, was – among other things – a scholar of Elizabethan theatre, a writer of literature with magical, mystical, folkloric themes, and also a creator and teller of Christmas ghost stories (many of them take place in an academic setting, such as “The Ghost Who Vanished by Degrees”). See his collection “High Spirits” for the winter ghost tales, but I think I love them more simply because Davies wrote them, as opposed to the stories being inherently wonderful. Still, they are amusing and worth a read but his best work (I think) is the amazing Cornish Trilogy: The Rebel Angels; What’s Bred in the Bone; The Lyre of Orpheus.
Ohhh my gosh, Brittany here, I totally forgot about “The Ghost Who Vanished by Degrees,” I love that one!! I haven’t read any of his other work, but I will absolutely check it out – it sounds great!!
This writer sounds wonderful! Thank you for sending your comment!
Hi, Thank you for sending this list! I have already read “The Old Nurse’s Story” by Elizabeth Gaskell, which I really like! I would like to add another story of hers that is both ghost story and collection of fairy tales all in one — “Curious, If True” — at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/24879 . It’s not Christmas-specific, but it’s still lovely. I’m in the habit of thinking of fairy tales (and ghosts) with Christmas, and this has it all. I would not call it scary, but it has an eerie part.
Ahhh! This is Brittany, and I love “Curious, If True”!! I wrote about it a little bit in my dissertation :). It seems so ahead of its time to me!
Yes, I totally agree! She really is advanced.
Regarding academics and ghosts (in addition to Michelle’s great comment on Robertson Davies), I want to add the ghost stories of M.R. James. He wrote his stories (beginning with Ghost Stories of an Antiquary) particularly for Christmas entertainments for the students and fellow instructors. I believe the BBC made a series based on them, and the series was called A Ghost Story for Christmas.
Wonderful! Thanks for your post, Daylan, definitely going to check out James’ stories.
Ah yes, we love M.R. James! In retrospect I’m surprised none of his made this list… an oversight I’m glad you corrected!!
I’m only familiar with the Dickens story. My favorite ghost stories are The Beckoning Fair One -Oliver Onions, The Demon Lover -Elizabeth Bowen, and the song- She Moves Through the Fair. I’ll have to check these others out!
Nice choices, thank you for sharing!!
This is fun–I think I’m on a roll! For a very different story, the Middle English poem of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a ghost story (the green knight carries his head) that opens at Camelot during Christmas season festivities. Also, the frame story to Henry James’s disturbing The Turn of the Screw takes place on Christmas Eve.
I absolutely adore both of those! Sir Gawin and the Green Knight is just…incredibly bizarre and wonderful, and Turn of the Screw is TERRIFYING! It’s been written about as a kind of failed Cinderella story, which is a fascinating angle.
I’m going to have to purchase these books. I love a good ghost story. The question is, do I wait until it’s winter here or do I just read them now at Christmas even though it’s the middle of summer? Hmm I think I’ll do both
Ha! I like the way you think 🙂 Enjoy!
While not technically a ghost story I would think that Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Markheim” deserves a mention given its subject matter and its Yuletide setting and dark subject matter. And given that there are more modern titles included on this list Susan Hill’s “The Woman in Black” might also qualify, given that it is precisely this tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas time that led to the narrator relaying his story to the reader.
Pingback: December Ghosts – Doppelgangers – Terri Reid, author
Add A Comment Cancel
Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.
Notify me of follow-up comments by email.
Notify me of new posts by email.
4 Eerie Olde Christmas Ghost Stories to Give You the Chills This Holiday Season
These ghostly tales of yesteryear will bring a chill to your holidays.
- Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
"It always is Christmas Eve, in a ghost story.” – Jerome K. Jerome
While we mostly associate spooky stories with Halloween, for generations in England there has been a strong link between the ghost story and Christmas. Of course, there’s Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol , which is perhaps the most famous Christmas ghost story of all. Yet the tradition of holiday ghost stories dates back at least as far as the Victorians, when people gathered around a roaring fire to keep the cold at bay and share tales that sent a different sort of chill down the spine.
Related: ‘Tis the Season for Murder: 17 Winter True Crime Books
Remember: There was no TV or radio back then, so Christmas gatherings were given over to friendly conversation, indoor games, and the telling of tales. And what better kind of stories to tell on the longest, darkest nights of the year than ghost stories?
Want more chilling tales? Sign up for The Lineup 's newsletter, and receive our eeriest stories delivered straight to your inbox.
- Photo Credit: Hulton Archive / Getty Images
It was a tradition perhaps most famously practiced by M.R. James, widely considered the master of the English ghost story, who wrote a new spectral tale every year at Christmas. James would invite some of his fellow teachers and favorite students to his chamber, where he would treat them to a reading.
The best ghost stories for Christmas have a few details in common, even if they don’t take place during the holidays. They possess such a convivial sense that you feel a part of the crowd, gathering close to the fire to hear a scary story that just may be real. Such ghost stories remind listeners that they’re inside someplace warm, while hinting at the limitless dark that presses in from outside.
Related: 11 Chilling Horror and Thriller Books to Read This Winter
The tales I’ve gathered for you today date from a little after the true Victorian period, but all of them are in the public domain and available to read for free online. You can peruse them yourself this holiday season—or, if you’re feeling whimsical, you can revive the grand tradition of holiday ghost stories and read them aloud to family and friends when the evening grows dark.
1. “Between the Lights” by E.F. Benson (1912)
- Photo Credit: Three Lions / Getty Images
E.F. Benson was a protégé of James, and it shows in his ghost stories. Nevertheless, Benson brings much of his own style to the telling, including a sense of fun and sly self-deprecation that never blunts the chill.
Related: 52 Best Horror Books from the Past 200 Years
“Between the Lights” may not be his best tale. As the teller in the story warns, “It has no apparatus about it at all. You will probably all say that it was nothing, and wonder why I was frightened.” But what it does have is a perfect Christmas Eve ghost story setting. A group of friends gathers in a darkened room around a blazing fire to compete “with each other in blood, bones, skeletons, armour and shrieks.” If “Between the Lights” merely whets your appetite for more of Benson’s delightful scary stories, I recommend following it up with one of my favorites, “ How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery .”
2. “Lost Hearts” by M.R. James (1904)
Though M.R. James tended to tell his stories at Christmas, they seldom take place during the holidays. However, there’s a kind of wintry feeling in “Lost Hearts,” even as its telling spans a whole year.
Related: Gaslight Murder: 12 Gripping Victorian True Crime Books
In some ways, “Lost Hearts” is a remarkably straightforward ghost story, yet still every bit as chilling as some of James’ stranger tales. It contains the undercurrent of sorcery that infuses some of his very best stories. It’s also an example of a tale where the ghosts themselves are at times no more terrible than the men with whom they interact…
3. “Smee” by A.M. Burrage (1931)
If the bit of hide and seek at the beginning of “Between the Lights” made you hungry for more ghostly games in a big, dark house on Christmas Eve, then A.M. Burrage’s “Smee” is the Christmas ghost story for you.
Related: 16 Haunted House Books That Will Leave You Sleeping with One Eye Open
Even the story’s strange name gives a chill. As the tale unfolds, those chills only multiply. Like jokes, the trick of a great ghost story is not in the phenomena it describes, but in the telling. "Smee' succeeds wonderfully in this regard. It’s a layered tale that gives you all the particulars up front. Yet the accumulation of eerie details still delivers the chills, and the story's frightening climax is tailor-made for spectral tales told around a warm fire.
4. “The Searcher of the End House” by William Hope Hodgson (1910)
William Hope Hodgson’s name is seeing a much-deserved resurgence in popularity among aficionados of the weird tale. He's often held in similar regard to pioneers such as H.P. Lovecraft . While Hodgson may be best known for his novel of classic cosmic horror The House on the Borderland , he wrote widely and prolifically across a variety of subjects, with many of his best stories dealing with strange goings-on upon the sea.
Related: 51 SCARIEST Books of the Last 200 Years
One of his greatest creations is the paranormal investigator Carnacki, the Ghost Finder. Besides containing that delightful Christmas ghost story touch of a tale being told around smokes and drinks and a crackling fire, Carnacki’s stories combine strange “outside forces” with occasional doses of Scooby Doo-like revelations for what at first appeared to be spectral happenings. “The Searcher of the End House” is a fine example, with one of the most unsettling uses of footprints in the history of the ghost story, and with a mysterious ending that leaves us with as many questions as answers.
Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons
Get our eeriest tales and best book deals delivered straight to your inbox.
© 2024 OPEN ROAD MEDIA
- We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
- Skip to content
- Accessibility Help
BBC Sounds - Sounds Iconic: Ghostly Christmas - Available Episodes
Sounds Iconic: Ghostly Christmas
A collection of spooky festive tales.
Sounds Iconic's Ghostly Christmas
Sounds Iconic welcomes you to a collection of classic ghost stories for Christmas.
Daisy Johnson's darkly haunting ghost story set in an isolated hotel.
- 22 Nov 2020
Kaleidoscope: Come Beck’ning Ghost
Peter Nichols explores the classic British tradition of the Ghost story. From 1985.
- 08 Dec 2022
The Stolen Body
When a researcher experiments with astral projection, an interested party intervenes.
- 30 Jun 2017
The Turn Of The Screw
A young woman becomes governess to two children in a haunted manor house in Essex.
It's Me Who Keeps the Bird's Heart Beating by Luke Sutherland
In this haunting tale, Regina overcomes muteness with some help from the afterlife...
- 30 Dec 2010
Ghosts and Hauntings: 'It's Almost As If Someone Were Waiting'
A real-life ghostly encounter – could it be true?
A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens’ classic ghost story for Christmas, starring Ralph Richardson.
- 09 Dec 2022
Ghosts and Hauntings: 'As He Touched Me, He Went Right Through Me'
Another real-life ghostly encounter from the vaults.
Night Terrors by Lizzie Nunnery
Victoria can't sleep at night. Then bad dreams haunt her waking hours.
- 29 Dec 2011
Ghosts and Hauntings: 'I Suddenly Heard The Bell Begin To Ring'
The final of our haunting encounters from the archives.
A Warning To The Curious by M.R. James
Alex Jennings reads M.R. James' ghost story set on the windswept coast of East Anglia.
- 13 Jun 2011
Open Book: M.R. James
Kate Mosse explores the work of M.R. James, father of the modern English ghost story.
The Haunting of M.R. James
Classic ghost story author M.R. James is pursued by his own demons. Stars Mark Gatiss.
- 22 Dec 2018
Can you hear the ghostly voice accidentally broadcast on Radio 4?
You've been listening to Sounds Iconic's Ghostly Christmas. Now go and turn the lights on.
- BBC Sounds Help
- Contacts, Privacy and Information
- Help with Signing In
Los Angeles Public Library
- Get a Library Card |
- My Library Account
Ghost Stories at Christmastime
Ghost stories have been shared as long as we have wondered what happens to us after we die, and sought to connect with spirits of the departed. Midwinter is the perfect time for them. The nights grow long and dark, and winter weather brings us together to huddle around the fire and share tales. The old year is ending and the new year is beginning; a liminal time of reflection and re-evaluation, when the barrier to the world beyond can be more easily crossed.
It was a pair of ghost story writers who established the classic image of Christmas in popular culture. Charles Dickens of course, with a novella that is at once one of the great ghost stories, the very greatest Christmas story, and his most famous work: A Christmas Carol , published in December 1843. He conceived it at a time when the customs of Christmas were becoming formalized, and new ones such as the Christmas tree being added. Dickens was influenced by the rich depiction of a proper Christmas at an English manor by Washington Irving in the enormously popular Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent . (1820), which also includes “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. No detail is spared: the family arriving from near and far, the holly and the ivy, the Yule log, the games on Christmas Eve; then the sermon on Christmas morn, the feast, the carols, the mummers, the revels, and of course, the telling of ghost stories:
“I found the company seated round the fire, listening to the parson, who was deeply ensconced in a high-backed oaken chair...dealing forth strange accounts of the popular superstitions and legends of the surrounding country. These tales were often laughed at by some of the sturdier among the rustics, yet when night came on, there were many of the stoutest unbelievers that were shy of venturing alone in the footpath that led across the churchyard.”
Irving was also one of the first to popularize the legend of St. Nicholas, in his History of New York (1809). In this passage, the jolly old elf supernaturally induces the newly arrived Van Kortlandts to settle on the site of what would become New Amsterdam, later New York:
“And the sage Oloffe dreamed a dream—and, lo! the good St. Nicholas came riding over the tops of the trees, in that self-same wagon wherein he brings his yearly presents to children...And when St. Nicholas had smoked his pipe he twisted it in his hatband, and laying his finger beside his nose, gave the astonished Van Kortlandt a very significant look, then mounting his wagon, he returned over the treetops and disappeared.”
Dickens and Irving helped enshrine Christmas in the popular imagination, but they did not invent it. To briefly encapsulate its evolution: in the Gospels, no particular time of year is given for Jesus’ birth. December 25 was fixed as the date in the fourth century, to coincide with the winter solstice by the Roman calendar. This gave it a solar symbolism—the coming of the light. It also coincided with a number of older midwinter festivals, such as the wild Roman Saturnalia and the Scandinavian Yule. For long centuries, Christmas celebrations were much more like Hallowe’en or Mardi Gras; a festival of revels, drunkenness, and pranks, overseen by a lowly beggar crowned the Lord of Misrule. Ghosts, goblins, and witches were afoot and had to be appeased. In medieval England, a hale and bearded Father Christmas presided over the mirth and conviviality, looking pretty much the way Dickens describes his Ghost of Christmas Present. This figure was eventually combined with that of the Turkish St. Nicholas of Myra into Santa Claus. Clement Moore published “A Visit From St. Nicholas”, better known as “The Night Before Christmas”, in 1823; Thomas Nast’s 1862 illustrations captured the red-suited look with all the accessories. Corporations and marketers caught on in the 20th century, adding Rudolph and pop jingles and eventually transforming the whole thing into the mandatory gift-giving season of commerce that completely dominates every December (and now even November), still crucially fueled by that leftover sprinkling of charity and goodwill.
The Victorians had a mania for ghost stories, especially Christmas ones. This combined with the 19th-century magazine publishing boom, and its mandatory ‘Christmas Numbers’ packed with spooky tales, to bring the ghost story to its apex as a narrative form. The Christmas Numbers were also an important avenue for women writers; Moore reports that some fifty to seventy percent of ghost stories in Victorian Christmas editions are thought to have been written by women.
And, the old trappings never fail: a haunted manor, candlelight, malevolent portraits, dragging chains. Such an abundance of Christmas ghost stories were published in the 19th century that writers like Jerome K. Jerome were compelled to satirize their cliches, or Dickens, in “Christmas Ghosts” (1850):
“We travel home across a winter prospect; by low-lying mist grounds, through fens and fogs…The gate bell has a deep, half-awful sound in the frosty air; the gate swings open on its hinges; and, as we drive up to a great house, the glancing lights grow larger in the windows…There is probably a smell of roasted chestnuts and other good comfortable things all the time, for we are telling Winter Stories—Ghost Stories, or more shame for us—round the Christmas fire…”
The Irish writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu wrote the eeriest 19th-century tales, many of them for the“Christmas Numbers”. M.R. James, provost of King’s College Cambridge, perfected the ghost story with some of the most atmospheric and terrifying ever, almost all written and read aloud to friends as Christmas entertainments. In the 1970s several adaptations of these were filmed for the BBC in a wonderful series called A Ghost Story for Christmas . Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (1898) is framed by the narrator as a manuscript read aloud by the fireside on a Christmas Eve. James Joyce’s “The Dead”, from Dubliners (1914), is a ghostly Christmas masterwork. Even Stephen King frames his bittersweet winter horror “The Breathing Method” from Different Seasons (1982) as a Christmastime reminiscence by a retired doctor at a mysterious Manhattan club with a ghostly storytelling tradition.
How are Christmas ghosts different from Halloween ghosts? It all goes back to Dickens: he brings together unforgettably the Gothic and the sentimental. Dickens’ ghosts are here to educate and instruct, to terrorize one into better behavior and warm the sympathies; to bring rich and poor together, and to teach the true meaning of peace on earth and goodwill towards men, the way only a ghost can.
For myself, I read classic ghost stories at Christmas because when there’s a chill in the air, my yearning is reawakened for those hoary haunted manors with their rattling chains. Sure, there’s no snow or icicles here in Los Angeles, other than plastic ones, but when the temperature plunges below 70 in the Southland, I am filled with the true Washington Irving spirit:
“There is something in the very season of the year that gives a charm to the festivity of Christmas...in the depth of winter when nature lies despoiled of every charm and wrapped in her shroud of sheeted snow, we turn for our gratifications to moral sources. The dreariness and desolation of the landscape, the short gloomy days and darksome nights, while they circumscribe our wanderings, shut in our feelings also from rambling abroad, and make us more keenly disposed for the pleasures of the social circle. Our thoughts are more concentrated; our friendly sympathies more aroused. We feel more sensibly the charm of each other's society and are brought more closely together by dependence on each other for enjoyment. Heart calleth unto heart; and we draw our pleasures from the deep wells of living kindness, which lie in the quiet recesses of our bosoms; and which, when resorted to, furnish forth the pure element of domestic felicity.”
- View on OverDrive
- View in Catalog
- Book Bundles To Go
- Branch Periodical Subscription List
- Freegal Music
- L.A. in Focus Videos
- New York Times Digital
- New Books by Genre
- Staff Reviews
- Resources for Readers
- Submit a Suggestion
- Online Resources
- Indie Author Project
- Submission Policy
- Language Collections
- Libby (Overdrive)
- Career Conversations
- Children Chatting
- Poet Laureate
- Read Freely
- Government Documents
- High School Diploma
- Behymer Collection Index
- Bookplate Collection
- Business Magazine Index
- Business & Economics Reference Works
- California Documents Index
- California Fiction Index
- California Index
- California Prints Index
- Casey Fashion Plates
- City Directories Index
- Cookery Ephemera Index
- Environmental Impact Reports
- Genealogy & Local History Index
- Gladys English
- Government Documents - Business
- Japanese Prints Index
- Library Images Index
- Lummis Autograph Collection Index
- Menu Collection
- Native American Index
- Obituary Index
- Orchestration Catalog
- Play File Index
- Public Art Index
- Series and Sequels
- Short Story File Index
- Theater Program Collection
- Toy Movable Database
- Turnabout Theater Archive
- LinkedIn Learning
- Online Learning
- Aerial Photographs
- African -American Literature (PDF)
- African-American Ingenuity
- Bilingual English-Spanish Material (PDF)
- Book Reports
- Census Tract Maps (PDF)
- Financing New Business (PDF)
- Food and Drink
- History of Your House
- Holiday Cookery
- Image Locator
- Job Hunting and Money Guides
- Literary Criticism Locator
- Map Collection
- Maps of Los Angeles
- Military and Industry Standards and Specifications
- Obituaries in LA County
- Philosophy Research
- Play Locator
- Poem Locator
- Representative Maps in Los Angeles History and Growth
- Sanborn Fire Insurance Atlases
- Sheet Music Locator
- Short Story Locator
- Small Business Research (PDF)
- Treaty Research
- Valuation of Collectibles
- Vital Records
- Student Success
- Shades of L.A. Oral Histories
- Web Resources
- ADA Services
- Adult Literacy
- Ask a Librarian
- Overview & Permits
- Cell-Ed Pathways
- Resources & Links
- Small Business Help
- Book a Librarian
- Community Outreach
- Explore L.A.
- Free Take-Home Covid-19 Test Kits
- Health Matters
- Homeless Resources
- Jobs, Money & Small Business
- New Americans
- Reentry Resources
- Reserve a Computer
- State Park Pass
- Veterans Resources
- Wireless Printing
- Babies & Toddlers
- Bilingual Events
- Dog Adoptions at the Library
- Expedition L.A.
- Winter Celebrations
- Your Author Series / Tu serie de autores
- Year-End Reading Challenge
- All Branches
- Art, Music, & Recreation Department
- Business and Economics Department
- Children's Literature Department
- Computer Center
- History & Genealogy Department
- International Languages Department
- Literature & Fiction Department
- Low-Vision Service Centers
- Popular Library
- Appointment Request Form
- Digital camera use
- Introduction to Special Collections
- Reader Registration Information
- The Rare Books Room Story
- Science, Technology, & Patents Department
- Social Science, Philosophy & Religion Department
- Historical Portraits Project
- Goodhue Building
- The Literate Fence Quotations
- Themes and Inscriptions
- Tom Bradley Wing
- Central Library Docent Tours
- Central Library Virtual Tour
- Rates & Occupancy
- Holiday Closures
- Become a Friend of the Library
- Join the Library Foundation of Los Angeles
- Make a Donation
- Shop The Library Store
- Agendas and Minutes
- Agendas & Minutes Archive
- Board Members
- Borrower Services
- City Librarian
- Connect With Us
- eCard Registration
- infoNow (Ask A Librarian)
- Change of Address
- Suggest a Purchase
- Technical Problems
- Your Library Story
- Adult Library Card Pre-Registration
- Youth/Teen Library Card Pre-Registration
- Verify Student Success Card
- Solicitud de tarjeta electrónica
- Pregúntale a un bibliotecario
- Formulario de cambio de dirección
- Sugerir una Compra
- Solicitud de tarjeta para adultos
- Solicitud de tarjeta para jóvenes
- Diversity and Inclusion Apprenticeship
- Jobs & Business Opportunities
- Perform at LAPL
- Press Release Archive
- Press Images - Branch Libraries
- Press Images - Central Library
- Rules of Conduct
- Staff Directory
- Volunteer Opportunities
- ¿Qué hay de nuevo?
- Biblioteca digital
- Títulos recomendados
- Kids & Parents