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Sharing ghost stories at Christmastime


Copyright: maximkabb / 123RF Stock Photo

Christmas is one of the most wonderful times of the year. But did you know that it also used to be one of the spookiest? It’s true! In fact, telling ghost stories around the holidays is a tradition that’s been around for a long time, but it’s become less common over the last century. Let's look at how this spooky tradition came about:

Haunting Yule holiday traditions

Yule log burning in the fireplace

The burning of the Yule log is also a Yule holiday tradition that has passed down and incorporated into today's holidays. (Photo by roccocell on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND)

Nobody is quite sure when ghost stories first became associated with Christmastime. Some people actually believe the tradition is older than Christmas itself! Before Christmas was a holiday, the Germanic people of Europe celebrated a festival called Yule, which came at the end of the year.

group of people telling stories by the fire

Tales by the fireside. (Photo by rebecca.smiles licensed CC BY 2.0)

During the longest darkest nights of the year, it was thought that the barrier between our world and the afterlife became thinner, and ghosts were more likely to appear on Earth. This lead to all kinds of stories about ghosts being told. Eventually, many Yule traditions were incorporated into Christmas, including ghost stories.

Scary Scrooge spectres

The ghost of Christmas present

In "A Christmas Carol," Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Christmas present. (Photo by Hale Centre Theatre on / CC BY-NC-ND)

In 1863, Charles Dickens published his famous novel A Christmas Carol. The book was a huge hit, and helped reignite people’s love for the Christmas season! It also helped to associate the season with ghosts, like those that visited mean old Scrooge to help him mend his ways.

illustration from an old book of ghosts at Christmas

An illustration from an old Christmas ghost story. (Photo by exit78 on Visual Hunt / CC BY)

After that, ghost stories became a beloved part of Christmas in England. Families would gather around the fire and read stories to scare and thrill one another. Some people read stories written by popular authors of the day, while others came up with their own. Others still told stories that had been passed down in their families for generations!

Ghostly Christmas storytelling

actors on a stage

Acting, vintage style. (Photo by Willo Hausman on / CC BY-ND)

One of the best ghost story writers of all time was a man named M.R. James. James was a professor, but one of his favourite hobbies was writing ghost stories. Back in the early 1900s, he would throw parties for friends and students every Christmas Eve. There, he would tell his latest story. He didn’t just read it — he would act it out, with gestures and voices and more. It was quite an experience!

Write and share your own Christmas ghost story

If the Christmas ghost storytelling sounds like a fun tradition, you could try writing one of your own! Here are a few tips that M.R. James thought made for a chilling tale:

  • Tell the story like it really happened. Tell your audience that you heard it from a friend, or a family member.
  • Don’t worry too much about explaining how the ghost works — you don’t want to ruin the mystery!
  • Make your story scary, but not so scary that people can’t listen to it.

Have fun, and have a wonderfully ghoulish Christmas!