Christmas ghost stories are a tradition going back much farther than “A Christmas Carol.”
The tradition of holiday ghost stories perhaps goes back farther than Christmas itself. With the nights longer and the year coming to an end, it made sense for people to gather and tell tales of those who have passed. Those they have long missed throughout the year. Those who have made us cry and those who have made us laugh. Thus, the Christmas ghost story.
As religious studies professor Justin Daniels will tell, “Christmas as celebrated in Europe and the U.S. was originally connected to the Pagan Winter Solstice celebration and the festival known as Yule. The darkest day of the year was seen by many as a time when the dead would have particularly good access to the living.”
Were these ghostly tales good or bad? I’d like to think they were good. My ancestors had quite a few to share around an open fire. From stories of family traditions to snow covered treks uphill at night so as to make Christmas special for a loved one, they were stories to tell of the night and those to whom who loved.
However, to most, Halloween is deemed a more fitting holiday for ghost stories but truly Christmas makes sense. It’s a time when we feel for those we lost and the memories of their long tales. As my grandpa once told me, “Night is full of mischief,” after he had shared his story of walking up-hill in the snow and seeing the hairy faced monster.
This can be agreed upon with Charles Dickens writings, “The ghosts of Christmas are really the past, present, and future, swirling around us in the dead of the year. They’re a reminder that we’re all haunted, all the time, by good ghosts and bad, and that they all have something to tell us.” One must wonder, what do our ghosts have to tell us?
Much can be told of our traditions and of our family that lived before us. But what happened to these celebrations of our ancestors and the glories that once fancied the celebration of Christmas?
The downfall all begins with a Puritan leader named Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell, during the uprising of the Puritan times, often disgraced the less-than-Christian origins of the holiday and encouraged the Puritans to create an ordinance in 1644. This ordinance abolished Christmas as we see it today, with our festive lights and thoughts of gifts and ancestral tales, and instead turned it into a day as any other. He stole our ancestors’ stories and instead turned the Festive Day of Christmas into a day of shame. He claimed those who called themselves Christian to see the truth for Christmas seemed to celebrate those of the dead rather than the living.
Cromwell’s push for this belief would last for more than thirty years, with the Massachusetts Bay Colony banning the celebration of Christmas. One might wonder, what could be the harm of celebrating? Oh, but what a price they would pay. For Cromwell had said, “For if found celebrating, a person would face a penalty of a five shilling fine,” which at this time was three days’ worth of wages. Who could afford that at telling the tales of their ancestors when already starving? (I think at this point we all know who the inspiration for Dicken’s character Scrooge was. In case you need a hint, it was Cromwell.)
As time traveled forward the traditions of Christmas started making a resurgence during the Restoration era, but the damage had essentially been done. Cromwell had made his mark and it was hard to overcome. Christmas faded to nothing along with its joyous traditions. No longer did we celebrate the stories of our ancestors as they were seen as old-fashioned and not needed, though some had tried to resurrect its founding’s.
Through many trials and errors, it wasn’t until a change came about in 1843 with the publication of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. But was it the Christmas change that Dickens had hoped to accomplish? Now, it seems not.
While a surge of Christmas Spirit after Charles Dickens publication during the Industrial Revolution had happened, his story of ghosts and tales of the past wasn’t taken as attended. While his words inspired a spark of Christmas spirit that once again became ignited with inspiration there was still a lack of traditional spirit.
Victorians, at this time, had taken his story and ignited a new age of giving and celebration that created a new foundation for Christmas. Tales are rarely told around the fire with the gifts of our ancestors rarely given. A gift that is forever giving.
Amongst our modern age, where the pandemic is at the forefront of many’s minds and the task of celebrating Christmas has become nothing but a virtual event, one has to wonder if another Charles Dickens is at need of rescuing humanity. Of telling the tales of those before us and carrying on the Christmas tradition. The tales of those long before us. Lord help us if it takes Krampus to save us all.
So tonight, while you gather around the lit Christmas tree or hearth, ask yourselves, am I a Cromwell or a Dickens? Will you once again tell a tale of your ancestors around an open fire, or will you fall pray to those who want nothing more of you than a gift of the ages.
I’d like to think I’m a Dickens, a Yule ancestor of the times, telling the tale of my ancestors and celebrating their beloved family tale around an open fire.
Releasing December 24th: 6 Famous Christmas Ghost Tales
Writing my thoughts and experiences one post at a time.