5 Forgotten Christmas ghost stories
December 20, 2016 2:52 AM   Subscribe

"Having experienced both sides of Christmas, there is but one constant I am aware of that serves you well both in the merriest of times and in the darkest: the classic English Christmas ghost story.
posted by smoke (23 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
My favorite, always discounting Dickens, of course, is John Dickson Carr's "Blind Man's Hood". Like a great deal of Carr, there is a locked room that has a prosaic explanation yet there is at the same time there is a supernatural occurrence which is exactly that. I think this story does the best blending of both of all his work.
posted by dannyboybell at 5:06 AM on December 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

These look great, thanks! The Christmas ghost story is something I wish we still did; I like the mix of coziness and terror

Also this from the first story: "Oh, Everard," she said, "surely you don't wish to recapture it again. I should have thought once was enough."

Reminds me of my wife's grandmother who one occasion said to her husband, totally out of the blue, "Oh John, you're not going to tell THAT story are you?" which was a prompt for him to launch into a long, bawdy story. It's unclear if this was planned, like a Vaudeville bit, or if it was just her being weird.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:20 AM on December 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've been thinking lately that this is a Christmas tradition that needs to be revived. The evergreen status of "A Christmas Carol" provides an opening, and Doctor Who's Christmas specials have often fallen into the category -- though I suspect that's been inadvertent by way of Dickens. The writers go Victorian/Edwardian rather than contemporary as, of course, these stories were when they were written.
posted by Quindar Beep at 5:35 AM on December 20, 2016

Ghost story lovers take note: E.F.Benson mentioned here, now most noted for the incomparable Mapp and Lucia stories, was best known in his own time as a master of ghost craft. The collected works is easily available.
posted by BWA at 5:44 AM on December 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

I've just been to a performance of a selection of Ghost stories which happens just before Christmas here in Brighton (this years' selection: Agatha Christie's Wireless, M.R James' Whistle [...] , and two Ramsey Campbell pieces), which is now a Christmas tradition for myself and t'husband. Mince pies, mulled wine and chills.

A couple links in his selections seem to be broken/partial now, sadly, so here's J. H. Riddell's A Strange Christmas Game and Andrew Caldecott's Christmas Reunion
posted by halcyonday at 5:55 AM on December 20, 2016 [7 favorites]

BBC Television had (and has revived recently) a strand of classic Christmas ghost stories from famous authors - MR James and others. This includes renowned versions of Whistle And I'll Come To You and The Stalls Of Barchester.

Exercises in atmosphere and creeping dread as opposed to SFX and grand guignol.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 6:07 AM on December 20, 2016 [9 favorites]

I love Christmas ghost stories-- these are perfect and I've almost come to the end of this stash of similar stories. Thanks!
posted by jfwlucy at 6:11 AM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nice list! I always feel obliged to mention Charles Palliser's The Unburied which is a full length novel, not a short story, but is cemented firmly in Christmas and all that that entails, has more than one ghost, lays on the fog and gloom with a liberal hand, and is just the thing to read with a glass of port in a high backed chair in front of a roaring fire at Christmastide.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 6:11 AM on December 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

MR James did actually write a specifically Christmas ghost story and it's one of his scariest: The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance. Be prepared - if scary dreams of the MR James story variety make you anxious, you will find this story particularly frightening. I actually had a bad dream about the dream in this one once.
posted by Frowner at 6:13 AM on December 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

I have always loved the English tradition of ghost stories at Christmas time. The only thing I have from my childhood to compare is my mother telling my sister and I Mexican ghost stories around Christmas. Especially ones that happened to family members (herself included).
posted by Kitteh at 6:21 AM on December 20, 2016

The epitome of the genre, IMO, is Frederick Forsyth's The Shepherd. Listeners to the CBC will know that Alan Maitland's reading of it has been a tradition since 1979, always on the last broadcast of the program "As It Happens" before Christmas. It's 32 minutes long, and I listen to it every year while I'm wrapping presents.

According to Wikipedia (which I won't link to because the article has spoilers): "Forsyth created this original work as a Christmas gift to his first wife Carrie after she requested a ghost story be written for her. Written on Christmas Day 1975, and published near that time a year later, the idea came while trying to think of a setting away from the typical haunted homes, and seeing planes flying overhead. Many have speculated references to preexisting RAF folklore. While Forsyth is a former RAF pilot and could have heard and adapted such a story (either with or without the intent to do so) no references or anecdotal evidence have been put forward to support such claims."
posted by angiep at 6:47 AM on December 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

That's a great M.R. James story.

It's ironic that given how closely Charles Dickens is associated with Christmas, all of his Christmas books except for A Christmas Carol are now regarded as kind of...eh. Some of the collaborative ghost story collections that originally appeared in the Christmas issues of Household Words and All the Year Round are more interesting, like Mugby Junction and The Haunted House.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:10 AM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

A great Yuletide tradition, thank you, smoke. I'll now retire to my high-backed leather reading chair in front of the roaring fire in the reading room. The fog is thick on the moors today.
posted by mrdaneri at 8:05 AM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yay! I've come to look forward to the (seems annual) MeFi Yuletide ghost posts. Great stuff here. I've just emerged from this rabbit hole, having been curious about "Why ghost stories at Christmas?"--it's an engaging read, especially if you're nerdy about reception studies and/or the business of publishing. Yulish ghost tales get their own chapter.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 8:34 AM on December 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'll now retire to my high-backed leather reading chair in front of the roaring fire in the reading room. The fog is thick on the moors today.

A huge part of the appeal to me of these sorts of stories is how lovely everything sounds right up until the ghosts show up. A warm fire, a big chair, some port? Even with the ghosts I might take that life.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:08 AM on December 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Just stay away from weird cheese and you're laughing.
posted by Artw at 9:15 AM on December 20, 2016

*wyrd cheese
posted by comealongpole at 9:21 AM on December 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Don't forget The Turn of the Screw.
The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as, on Christmas Eve in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be...
posted by doctornemo at 10:29 AM on December 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Frowner, "The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance" is wonderful. I can see how it feeds into Ligotti's work.
posted by doctornemo at 11:25 AM on December 20, 2016

Robertson Davies had a tradition of writing and performing a Christmas ghost story for the yearly UofT Christmas party, and those are collected in High Spirits, which is excellent .
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 8:33 PM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Scrappy literary Canadian publisher Biblioasis has recently taken on the challenge of reissuing classic Christmas ghost stories - some authors mentioned above like the obvious Dickens and M.R. James, not to mention the surprising Edith Wharton. They've done five so far, overseen and designed and illustrated by graphic novelist Seth.
Disclaimer - I sell Biblioasis's books to bookstores, but this discussion and the post were too on-topic to not mention these beauties.
posted by bookmobile at 9:02 PM on December 20, 2016

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, without my telling him. It always is Christmas Eve, in a ghost story,

Christmas Eve is the ghosts' great gala night. On Christmas Eve they hold their annual fete. On Christmas Eve everybody in Ghostland who IS anybody—or rather, speaking of ghosts, one should say, I suppose, every nobody who IS any nobody—comes out to show himself or herself, to see and to be seen, to promenade about and display their winding-sheets and grave-clothes to each other, to criticise one another's style, and sneer at one another's complexion.

"Christmas Eve parade," as I expect they themselves term it, is a function, doubtless, eagerly prepared for and looked forward to throughout Ghostland, especially the swagger set, such as the murdered Barons, the crime-stained Countesses, and the Earls who came over with the Conqueror, and assassinated their relatives, and died raving mad.

Hollow moans and fiendish grins are, one may be sure, energetically practised up. Blood-curdling shrieks and marrow-freezing gestures are probably rehearsed for weeks beforehand. Rusty chains and gory daggers are over-hauled, and put into good working order; and sheets and shrouds, laid carefully by from the previous year's show, are taken down and shaken out, and mended, and aired.

Oh, it is a stirring night in Ghostland, the night of December the twenty-fourth!
posted by betweenthebars at 11:02 PM on December 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

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