Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The History Goes Bump Christmas Special 2014

The chorus of the Christmas carol "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" goes like this:
"There'll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow
There'll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories
Of Christmases long, long ago
It's the most wonderful time of the year."
People sing this carol every year, but we wonder if they stop to think about the line dealing with ghost stories.  What do ghost stories have to do with Christmas?  Aren't ghost stories for Halloween?  Most of our traditions like caroling and sending Christmas cards date back to Victorian England.  There is one tradition that has been lost.  People in Victorian England used to sit around the fire on Christmas Eve and tell scary ghost stories.  British humorist Jerome K. Jerome explains why there is the tradition of telling ghost stories in his 1891 Anthology "Told After Supper" by writing, "There must be something ghostly in the air of Christmas — something about the close, muggy atmosphere that draws up the ghosts, like the dampness of the summer rains brings out the frogs and snails… For ghost stories to be told on any other evening than the evening of the twenty-fourth of December would be impossible in English society as at present regulated.  So what is it about Christmas that goes so well with ghosts? Such a question inevitably brings up the issue of why we celebrate Christmas in December at all."

Originator of the antiquarian ghost story, M R James wrote in 1904 in a preface to one of his works that he "wrote these stories at long intervals, and most of them were read to patient friends, usually at the seasons of Christmas."  James also detailed how a good ghost story should be told by writing, "Two ingredients most valuable in the concocting of a ghost story are, to me, the atmosphere and the nicely managed crescendo. ... Let us, then, be introduced to the actors in a placid way; let us see them going about their ordinary business, undisturbed by forebodings, pleased with their surroundings; and into this calm environment let the ominous thing put out its head, unobtrusively at first, and then more insistently, until it holds the stage.  Another requisite, in my opinion, is that the ghost should be malevolent or odious: amiable and helpful apparitions are all very well in fairy tales or in local legends, but I have no use for them in a fictitious ghost story."

The best proof that ghost tales were an important tradition is in Charles Dicken's beloved Christmas classic "A Christmas Carol."  Not only is the story a morality tale, but it incorporates the use of ghosts to scare Ebenezer Scrooge into becoming a more compassionate human being.  The ghost of Marley coming on Christmas Eve to Scrooge follows the tradition of Christmas ghost tales as well. 

There is also the connection to the Winter Solstice, which represents the death of light and the taking on of more darkness with the day being the shortest one of the year.  Some say this leads to the Winter Solstice being the most haunted day of the year.  Some scholars will claim that ghost stories at this time of year dates back further than the Victorian era and could go all the way back to Celtic times when the Solstice was more revered.  We may never know exactly when the telling of ghost stories on this day originated, but we do know that it is a lost tradition.

Listen to the podcast as we take part in this fun Christmas tradition.  Pull up a chair to the fire and grab some cocoa and cookies!

We will begin with the first ghost story M R James wrote and shared with his friends near the fireplace:  Canon Alberic's Scrapbook.  This tale was written in 1894!

Our second story is "The Red Lodge" written by H. Russell Wakefield.  Wakefield is well known for his ghost stories, which he began writing in the 1920s.

1 comment:

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