Have you ever wondered about the line in the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year?”
“There’ll be scary ghost stories
”And tales of the glories of
Christmases long, long ago.”
I mean, who tells “scary ghost stories” at Christmas time? If you watch the Hallmark Channel, every story has a mild point of personal drama and then resolves with a happy/sappy ending in a Christmas-focused small town.
Historically, scary stories at Christmas have been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years. They likely pre-date Christmas and are tied to the Winter Solstice and the pagan celebration known as “Yule” (and you thought yule had to do with Christmas, didn’t you?).
Cold winters, short days and extra-long nights around the solstice brought people together around the fire. That darkness and the uncertainty, wondering if the days would grow longer again, spawned the telling of scary stories.
Likely the most famous holiday ghost story is Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” The original full title of the story was “A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas” when it was released in London, just before Christmas, in 1843.
“A Christmas Carol” tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a miser who goes through a personal transformation on Christmas Eve, waking to an entirely new outlook on life after being exposed to the poor choices and cruel ways of his life.
The story itself has been translated into multiple languages and made into movies, TV shows and innumerable stage plays. It was instantly popular in Victorian England, but because of high production costs (insisted on by Dickens), it really didn’t make that much money for Dickens. The story has never been out of print in the 176 years since it debuted.
When it was released, “A Christmas Carol” challenged many of the current attitudes about the poor and poverty.
The Scottish author Margaret Oliphant said (just after its publication) “A Christmas Carol” was regarded as “a new gospel” and that “the book was unique in that it made people behave better.”
Not knocking the romance stories on Hallmark, but it seems like we could use a few new “A Christmas Carol” type stories that challenge the way we think and do things, rather than reinforcing an idealized story of Christmas that probably never was.