by Donna Hatch
An odd Christmas custom that dates back centuries is telling scary ghost stories. Have you noticed in the popular Christmas Song, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” the verse that says: “Tales of the glories and scary ghost stories of Christmases long, long ago” and wondered over it?
Telling ghost stories is an age-old tradition that many claim cropped up in the Victorian Era, including the traditional Christmas story, A Christmas Carol. However, this custom dates farther back than that.
Washington Irving penned a novel in 1819 called The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. The hero in the story visits friends in an English country house during Christmas season in a section entitled Old Christmas. While visiting Bracebridge Hall, our hero basks in the hospitality of the squire and a traditional English Christmas, which includes telling scary “winter tales.” Winter tales have long included tales of ghosts, witches, monsters, and other creatures of darkness.
In A Natural History of Ghosts: 500 Years of Hunting for Proof the author, Roger Clarke, tells of a popular story claiming that shepherds saw ghostly civil war soldiers battling in the skies just before Christmas 1642.
Even earlier, the Bard, William Shakespeare penned a collection of scary stories entitled Winter Tales.” This romance weaves a tale of tangled identities and apparent death and revival. This suggests that telling weird or bizarre stories whilst gathered around a winter’s evening fire was a wide-spread tradition long before the Bard’s time.
A predecessor of Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe wrote a play entitled The Jew of Malta in 1589 in which a character Barnabus states:
Now I remember those old women’s words,
Who in my wealth would tell me winter’s tales,
And speak of spirits and ghosts that glide by night
Since traditions such as this have roots in pagan practices dating back to medieval times, I assume winter tales including ghost stories have been a Christmas tradition since the days of cloak and dagger. But at the very least, the practice of telling ghost stories at Christmas has been in practice since the 1500s.
However, I’m happy that telling ghost stories, except for watching the movie or reading the book, A Christmas Carol, is no longer a major part of American Christmas customs. Can you imagine getting a child to bed who is both excited about presents and frightened of ghosts? Now that is scary!
Still, this practice of telling ghost stories is a plot point that works well for my Christmas novel, A Christmas Secret.
Holly has two Christmas wishes this year; to finally earn her mother’s approval by gaining the notice of a handsome earl with an impeccable reputation, and learn the identity of the stranger who gave her a heart-shattering kiss…even if that stranger is the resident Christmas ghost.
Christmas Secrets released November 9, 2017 and you can download it and read it instantly here