Boo, humbug!

Illustration from A Christmas Carol

Have you ever heard that one line in that Christmas song that goes, “There’ll be scary ghost stories,” and wondered what ghost stories had to do with Christmas beyond the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol?

Well, in Great Britain telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve is a tradition that goes back centuries. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense, really: Christmas Eve is only three days after the winter solstice, so the day is short, the night is long, families and friends were gathered together for the Christmas feast, and what better way to entertain everyone after dinner than gathering around the warm hearth and telling chilling tales?

Washington Irving and Dickens both documented the tradition, noting that quite often the Christmas ghost story was a retelling of a local legend. From 1850 to 1859, Dickens also edited the magazine Household Words, which featured a yearly Christmas bonus issue that included ghost stories from some of the most famous authors of the day. One of the classics from Household Words is Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1852 “The Old Nurse’s Story”.

There are also some classic ghost stories that you might not even know are Christmas ghost stories. Did you know, for example, that Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw is actually presented as a story shared among a group of friends on Christmas Eve?

If you’d like to continue this old tradition, we can help! Although we may be sold out of A Christmas Carol by the time you read this (but feel free to check with us), we can offer the 2019 collection Ghost Stories: Classic Tales of Horror and Suspense, signed by Iliad’s own ghost expert Lisa (who co-edited). This collection includes spooky stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sir Walter Scott, Edith Wharton, Henry James and M. R. James, and many more that would make for fine Christmas reading!