Link between Christmas and ghost stories?
December 8, 2009 7:12 PM   Subscribe

What’s the link between Christmas and ghost stories?

M.R. James started writing his ghost stories to read to friends on Christmas Eve. There's Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The frame story in "The Turn of the Screw" has a bunch of friends sitting around the harth on Christmas Eve. The song "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" has the line there'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago. Tim Burton gave us The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Is it as simple as the fact that Christmas, as we celebrate it, was shaped by the Victorians, and the Victorians like ghost stories? Is this some sort of pre-Christian pagan tradition that survived till modern times. Perhaps people just can't get enough Halloween in October. When did the Christmas ghost story originate and why?
posted by paulg to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Well, in regards to the Victorian tradition of ghost stories - and I would argue that the ghost story is itself quintessentially victorian - it was because of publishing. Huge numbers of christmas annuals were published each year around holiday time. The victorian passion for ghost stories - no less ravenous at the end of the year - would guarantee their inclusion in most annuals. Thus, more publishing = more ghost stories by nature. See here for more explication of 'christmas' as a Victorian invention, and the role of ghost stories and annuals.

Also, like it's winter and snowing and spooky outside.
posted by smoke at 7:22 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

My money's on the Victorians, and also having to entertain excited children around the fire.

(This question reminds me of this X-Files episode, of which I cannot find a decent promo video, so here is an awkward 'shipper video set to Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas is You")
posted by oinopaponton at 7:36 PM on December 8, 2009

I'd guess it's a Yule thing, pagan rather than Victorian, and probably more about the end of the year than Christmas. Old spirits out, new spirits in.
posted by rokusan at 7:42 PM on December 8, 2009

Christmas, as we celebrate it, was shaped by the Victorians, and the Victorians like ghost stories?

Yep, pretty much, in my understanding.

Look, you're bringing together multiple generations for some mandatory fun. What better way to captivate everyone than by a good ghost story?!
posted by desuetude at 9:38 PM on December 8, 2009

Longest nights of the year, and all the solstice/ritual/time-killing things that come with them.
posted by Hogshead at 6:20 AM on December 9, 2009

Response by poster: Smoke has a reasonable theory (Christmas shopping -> more gift publications -> more ghost stories), but I'd still like to hear more opinions. It would be great if anyone could cite a historian or a period source talking about ghost stories and Christmas.

Is anyone aware of a pre-Victorian Christmas (or Yule, new year, etc.) ghost story association?
posted by paulg at 9:37 AM on December 9, 2009

Ghosts walk in dreams; longest nights of year mean more dreams; more fitful sleep because of greater length of sleep means any individual dream is more likely to be remembered.

Therefore, more ghosts at Christmas!

Great observation, by the way, and not one I have ever heard of anyone else making.
posted by jamjam at 3:03 PM on February 13, 2010

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