In folklore columns from Christmases
past, I have often somehow managed to sneak in a tale or two
of ghosts, using as my feeble excuse that, across the Atlantic,
it is indeed Christmas Eve, as opposed to All Hallow's Eve, that
our British cousins tend to regale each other with ghostly tales.
Many of you have written it, asking how on earth such a custom
I for one had always assumed
that such traditions had their origins in ages long past, and
indeed one could point to the Druid origins of Halloween as a
precursor to this ghastly Yuletide tradition. However, it now
appears that this particular custom is much more modern than
As many of you may indeed have
already surmised, the British owe this tradition to none other
than Charles Dickens. Not, however, simply because of the immortal
"A CHRISTMAS CAROL". That classic aside, Dickens wrote
very few other ghost stories.
He was, however, one of the
most prolific magazine editors of his day, and some fifteen years
after the release of his tale of Scrooge and all the rest, he
began a practice of including as many ghost stories by other
authors as he could in the Christmas editions of the several
magazines he edited.
These editions grew quickly
in popularity, so that by the 1890's the reading and telling
of ghost stories at Christmas Eve were as deeply mired in English
ritual as if they had originated in the Dark Ages, rather than
a scant thirty years ago - so that in 1891 the author Jerome
K. Jerome could say:
"There must be something
ghostly in the air of Christmas - something about the close,
muggy atmosphere that draws up the ghosts . . .
And not only do the ghosts
themselves always walk on Christmas Eve, but live people always
sit and talk about them on Christmas Eve. Whenever five or six
English speaking people meet 'round a fire on Christmas Eve,
they start telling each other ghost stories.
Nothing satisfies us on
Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes
about specters. It is a genial, festive season, and we love to
muse upon graves, and dead bodies, and murders, and blood . .
For ghost stories to be
told on any other evening than the evening of the 24th of December
would be impossible in English society as at present regulated."