Today, most ghost stories are told during the fall, when Halloween is just around the corner and those who enjoy the spooky and scary tales are ready to celebrate. However, in times past when long, cold nights kept many indoors, the tradition of scaring your friends with stories around the fireplace was much more of a winter affair. Victorian storytellers were well aware of this, and so the tradition of ghost stories during the Christmas season became a tradition. Not to mention that many social gatherings were observed during the winter gift-giving time, and what better gift is there at a gathering of friends and family than a good, scary story about the supernatural?

The most famous of these Victorian Christmas Ghost tales is one you’ll likely recognize. The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was originally one of these spooky tales for the spooky season of Christmas. Remember the three ghosts of christmas that visited Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge? Even more tales like this one originated from that tradition of keeping warm by the fire and scaring the wits out of your friends and family. Some even took place during the winter, rather than the fall, as Victorians found the cold, long nights more of a frightening period of time. 

More stories like the Christmas Carol persisted through the years, maybe not with the same notoriety but with the implication that they were to be told during the winter. Another famous writer, Sir Rudyard Kipling of Jungle Book fame, wrote a ghost story for the holiday season called “The Phantom Rickshaw.” The tale is of a man who fell out of love with his wife and wished to marry a new woman. His wife took this as well as any Victorian lady would, and she died. However, the narrator keeps seeing her private rickshaw all around town, carting her from place to place in the afterlife. Eventually, he sees his wife, haunting him for his spurning of her love, and her haunting continues into his new marriage. 

Even H.P. Lovecraft would dip his toes into the Christmas ghost story format with his 1920 tale “The Terrible Old Man.” The title may even bring to mind one Mr. Scrooge from an earlier contemporary. The tale follows three young men who break into the home of the aforementioned old man, only to find that his past as a pirate and predilection for murder would seal the young men’s fates on Christmas Eve. 

Another famous tale that was originally written for Christmas holidays would be one you may be familiar with. The Turning of the Screw was written in 1898 by author Henry James. The tale is of a Governess who moves to an old and creepy home in the countryside to help with raising the family’s children. Frightening events begin and the woman is tested in her belief of the paranormal. The cold winter setting adds to the atmosphere of fright as the woman uncovers mysteries and ghosts of the mansion. 

My own personal favorite of these paranormal winter stories is called “Smee,” a contraction of the phrase “It’s Me!” Written by A.M. Burrage, it tells the story of a large group of friends together for christmas who decide to play a variation on the game of hide and seek, all the while remembering that the house they were playing in was infamous for the untimely death of a young girl just the year prior. The participants are reminded to be cautious when opening doors to hide from the seeker, as the girl’s death was caused by a similar game when she opened a door and fell down the servant’s stairs to her doom. The tale is worth a read itself for those seeking a scare this wintertime season. 

The Victorian time period itself was one with a fascination for the paranormal, with the fascination with mourning practices and seances were prevalent in the community. Many would join clubs or societies for the paranormal, and trying to summon the ghosts of those long past became a beloved and spooky pastime. The most common setting for these Christmas ghost stories would be the premise of friends getting together for xmas and playing games together in the same fashion. 

Dozens of stories owe their existence to this tradition in Victorian England, though efforts were made to bring the practice across the pond for Americans to enjoy. It never really took off, unfortunately, as the season of Halloween had become a mainstay in the States, especially with the large number of Irish Immigrants bringing their own traditions for the harvest. 

If you find yourself wanting more ghostly Christmas stories, I highly reccomend the “Valancourt books of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories.” As I sit here, my own copy is next to the Christmas tree, my own little tradition for several years now. Do you have your own ghostly Christmas Traditions? Maybe this is the year to start.

Merry Christmas from Ghostlandia!

Leave a Reply