Phantasmagoria Features: Christmas Ghost Stories

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By Corey Schjoth

If the world needed a Victorian ghost story during Christmas it would be today. Ghost stories have been a part of the Christmas season for centuries, and there are several reasons for this. During the winter months daylight is shorter and the weather is cold, so a lot of time is spent inside. Winter being the end of the season is regarded as the “death” of the year.  Many pagan religions also felt the Winter Solstice was a great time to speak to spirits of the other side.  A good scary story was a way of countering the forced joyfulness of the holiday. With so much time staying indoors with family, various tales of ghosts and monsters, some true and some made-up were told to pass the time.

Over the years telling ghost stories, sometimes called “Winter Tales,” became a folk custom to many. Much of these stories told where “cautionary tales”, tales to reaffirm proper vales of empathy, charity, tenderness for the sick, helpless, self-respect and generosity. The supernatural event would often change the bitter, self-centered individual would see the error of their ways through the eyes of those he had wronged.

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The most beloved Christmas story of all time is a ghost story. “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens beautifully writes the quintessential Christmas ghost story that takes Victorian virtues of empathy, respect and charity and pits them against the times of the Industrial revolution with child labor, little wages, the over-worked, hazardous work conditions and employers with more regard for production and little empathy for their workers. Dickens always felt ghosts were a part of our past, present and future. Something to be learned from as a symbol of the fate of our humanity. Over time Dickens quit writing Christmas ghost stories, but other writers of the time filled the void with their own style of ghost stories; but the “morality tale” ended and they focused more on scaring the reader.        

When Halloween became much more popular with the immigration of the Irish and Scottish, Christmas started to focus more on the more joyful aspects and Victorian virtues became more assumed and the message wasn’t so hammered in like the traditions before. The Christmas ghost story became less and less a folk custom and was reserved more for the Halloween season.  

With the climate of today’s society of division and strife. People who govern, believe, worship, and live a certain way are being vilified and disrespected. The messages that were important to maintain a civil society so long ago in the Victorian era seem to erode in today’s modern age. Maybe we should bring back the Victorian Christmas ghost story. To look past the general story of death, fear and graves and focus on the meaning behind what the writer is trying to tell us. To understand what moral lesson are they trying to convey. Maybe we might learn about what it means to have “Goodwill Towards Men” and truly understand that Christmas is not all about presents, lights and Jesus. It’s about caring and loving one another all year. Showing empathy to those who are different than what you may know. Being respectful to those you may disagree with and understand that most everyone in the world wants the same thing; to be loved, accepted, raise a family and to live the way they want to live. Will reading a Victorian Christmas ghost story change the world? No, but it will in a small subtle way reaffirm the civil values that the Victorians tried to instill into society over a hundred years ago.  

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Tobias WaylandComment