• Dan Osbaldeston


Nowadays, we tend to cluster our tales of the supernatural around Halloween, but in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, people liked nothing better on a December evening than scare the willies out of one another with macabre tales of ghosts and horror. Perhaps the darkness and chill of midwinter and the suspense and terror of a well told tale gave all the more reason to gather around a fire in good company. Or perhaps, as Shakespeare suggested much earlier, Christmas is a *safe* time to talk of ghosts.

“Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes

Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,

This bird of dawning singeth all night long;

And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,

The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,

No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,

So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.” Hamlet Act 1, Scene 1

The most famous Christmas ghost story is, of course, ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1843) by Charles Dickens but that’s far from the only classic for the season. ‘The Turn of the Screw’ (1898) by Henry James is told by an unnamed narrator on Christmas Eve, while ‘The Raven’ (1845) by Edgar Allen Poe is set on a dreary December night. And the tradition lingers on even still. I heartily recommend the stage adaptation of Susan Hill’s ‘The Woman in Black’ (1983), should you ever get the chance to see it.

If you fancy some midwinter shivers this December, you could do a lot worse than listen to friend and colleague Matt Wood telling some genuine spine-chillers from the Edwardian era. (You'll have to provide your own fireside to huddle by and your own cushion to clutch, though.)

As Jerome K Jerome wrote in the introduction of his 1891 anthology of Christmas ghost stories, ‘Told After Supper’, "Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about spectres".

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