There must be something ghostly in the air of Christmas
December 16, 2014 10:06 PM   Subscribe

It was Christmas Eve. I begin this way because it is the proper, orthodox, respectable way to begin, and I have been brought up in a proper, orthodox, respectable way, and taught to always do the proper, orthodox, respectable thing; and the habit clings to me. Of course, as a mere matter of information it is quite unnecessary to mention the date at all. The experienced reader knows it was Christmas Eve ... It always is Christmas Eve, in a ghost story.
In Told After Supper (1891), Jerome K. Jerome parodied the tradition of telling Christmas ghost stories, but it's plain to see that he had fun writing them. And horror writer Ramsey Campbell, himself the author of a number of Christmas stories, recently dropped by /r/WeirdLit to list off a few places to find more.

An article by Derek Johnston at the CC-licensed media outlet The Conversation explains a little more about the tradition Jerome had in mind: "Why ghosts haunt England at Christmas but steer clear of America."

The anthology for which Campbell offered a table of contents was Ghosts for Christmas, edited by Richard Dalby, which includes the following stories available online: He also suggested Christmas Ghosts, edited by Kathryn Cramer and David G. Hartwell, which includes the following pieces, among others: And finally, there's The Twelve Frights of Christmas, edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, and Carol-Lynn Rössel Waugh, which includes these classics and more: Incidentally, in an interview at Weird Fiction Review, Ramsey Campbell also mentions how reading a Christmas story in the Rupert Bear 1947 annual gave him his start in the genre of weird fiction.

Previously: A Christmas Carol; A Christmas Offering; the BBC's A Ghost Story for Christmas; and ghostly Christmases with Casper, the Ghostbusters, and Mr. Magoo.
posted by Monsieur Caution (12 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
Wow! You had me at Jerome K Jerome!
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:30 PM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is very good, thanks.
posted by BinaryApe at 1:43 AM on December 17, 2014

I had a dim awareness of this tradition due to the lyrics of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" : "...scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long long ago..."
But A Christmas Carol is the only one I was familiar with; thanks for giving me a bunch to read and possibly share around the Christmas tree.
posted by TedW at 4:50 AM on December 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Told After Supper is one of my favourite things ever written. I have fond memories of reading it for the first time in the totally silent reading room of the National Library of Scotland, and having to stuff my fist in my mouth to stop laughing out loud.
"It was Christmas Eve! Christmas Eve at my Uncle John's; Christmas Eve (There is too much 'Christmas Eve' about this book. I can see that myself. It is beginning to get monotonous even to me. But I don't see how to avoid it now.) at No. 47 Laburnham Grove, Tooting! Christmas Eve in the dimly-lighted (there was a gas-strike on) front parlour, where the flickering fire-light threw strange shadows on the highly coloured wall-paper, while without, in the wild street, the storm raged pitilessly, and the wind, like some unquiet spirit, flew, moaning, across the square, and passed, wailing with a troubled cry, round by the milk-shop."
posted by Catseye at 4:52 AM on December 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

One of my favourite things about Christmas is when BBC starts airing ghost stories on 4 & 4 Extra. I have always loved that the English embrace ghost stories during a traditional time of lights, gifts, decorations.

While we don't really do that in the US, my tiny little Mexican grandmother would tell us about spooky things that had happened to our family, but only ever around Christmas.

That said, if anyone has a link to a great story about a caroling outing for children gone wrong I heard last year on Radio 4 (I only remember David Tennant read it), thanks.
posted by Kitteh at 4:58 AM on December 17, 2014

Also, I was super disappointed that there will be no ghost story programming this year on the BBC. I look forward to Channel 5's offering though.
posted by Kitteh at 5:07 AM on December 17, 2014

This is fascinating! I was vaguely aware of this tradition but had no idea how extensive and solidified it was. Thank you. Looking forward to reading my way through.
posted by Miko at 5:32 AM on December 17, 2014

Wow! A friend of mine has been involved with a stage adaptation of another of Jerome's stories that's taken on something of a life of its own; she'll love this. Thanks!
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:32 AM on December 17, 2014

There is a Robertson Davies collection titled High Spirits (subtitled "A Collection of Ghost Stories"). From the wikipedia link:
Robertson Davies was Master of Massey College at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario from 1963 until 1981. Shortly after founding the College, he decided that he would tell a ghost story at the College's annual Christmas party — its Gaudy Night — as an entertainment. The telling of a ghost story became a tradition, and for eighteen years Davies wrote a new story, which he read out at the Gaudy Night celebration.
posted by rochrobbb at 9:57 AM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I knew Robertson Davies had put out a ghost stories collection whose name I couldn't remember! I asked Shepherd--a Canadian, obv--about it this morning after reading this thread and he thought I was nuts.
posted by Kitteh at 10:53 AM on December 17, 2014

There's a recurring bit in John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme (the only bit that recurs from show to show) of "Since you ask me for a ghost story…" Here's the first one: The Best Ghost Story Ever.

(Oh my. This claims to be a compilation of all the ghost stories.)
posted by Lexica at 9:45 PM on December 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I knew Robertson Davies had put out a ghost stories collection whose name I couldn't remember!

I couldn't remember it either, but I'd been on a Robertson Davies kick a few years back, so as a substitute for memory, I was able to check my bookshelves.
posted by rochrobbb at 5:35 AM on December 18, 2014

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