The next story is a ghost story

There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long long ago

“There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long long ago”

There once was a tradition that people would tell ghost stories around Christmas time, especially on Christmas Eve. Victorian authors adapted the tradition, writing ghost stories for the December issue or Christmas annual of whatever periodicals they wrote for. The most famous example is Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, published in 1843. But not all Christmas ghost stories were about Christmas itself. For example, Mrs. Gaskell wrote a story, “The Old Nurse’s Tale,” for Dickens’s 1852 Christmas supplement , which has very little to do with the holiday other than its temporal setting, but instead is a story of guilt and ghostly retribution.

In the same spirit, this month of December, I’ll be telling a ghost story. It will begin December 1 and end on or before December 24. And more than that, I can’t tell you, save that a character you have met before will put in a surprising appearance.

And if you don’t recognize the quotation under the picture, this is the original:


About Brian Bixby

I enjoy history because it helps me understand people. I'm writing fiction for much the same reason.
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15 Responses to The next story is a ghost story

  1. Cheney says:

    This sounds awesome, I will be back to read it! I love a good ghost story.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Thank you! I caution you, though: the ghost doesn’t appear right off. I’m following some of M.R. James’s rules for writing a ghost story, though I’m no M.R. James!

  2. Russell says:

    Looking forward to it, BB. That’s an interesting tradition — do you know the origin? I suppose it makes sense that stories about the supernatural would figure prominently on one of the longest nights of the year.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      See CP’s comment, below. I’m not an expert on the subject, but from what I’ve read, there’s some debate about historical continuity here. There are scattered references to telling certain kinds of stories, including ghost stories, in the dead of winter; in fact, you might recall that one of Shakespeare’s plays is “A Winter’s Tale” (although there’s an argument about what that means, too). However, there are some who hold that the tradition, if it ever existed, had died out and was single-handedly revived by Charles Dickens. Hence the weasel wording in my post about the antiquity of the custom.

  3. danagpeleg1 says:

    Oh, do I have to wait till Xmas? What’s wrong with Hannukah? You still have a week to go and there’s nothing like telling ghost stories with candlelight flickering in the background! OK, I get it, you need some more time… 🙂

    • Brian Bixby says:

      I read this out loud to E.J. Barnes and she laughed and agreed that telling spooky stories by the light of a flickering menorah has a romantic appeal. Perhaps we need a Hannukah golem story. Or one based on the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses.

      The more pragmatic reason: the idea for this story only came together Monday night.

  4. crimsonprose says:

    I don’t know when it happened (historically) but the ghost story tradition of Christmas-tide was taken from the traditions surrounding the Celtic summer’s end (Halloween) when the doors between worlds of living and dead, for that night were opened wide. Christmas – solstice – is the year’s turn.
    And I think I’m guessing I know who’s the ghost. I await the stroke of midnight . . . (And Happy Thanksgiving.)

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Thanks for the explanation. I’ll add that in New England, the long dark nights are conjoined with being snowed in, which gives one time for little more than feeding the fire and telling stories.

      And, yes, it’s time for all good Americans (and quite a few of the bad ones) to stuff themselves with a native bird named after a foreign country. Given the likely-never-again coincidence of Hannukah starting on the same day, you can bet kosher birds were in demand this year. Our tribute to this coincidence is to have sweet potato latkes.

      • crimsonprose says:

        Yea, I forget how horrendiusly cold your winters. While I all but bask on the East coast of England – as long as an easterly wind doesn’t blow, then it’s straight across from the Urals with nothing to stop it. Brr. I’m no fan of winter.

  5. How funny, my next post is going to be about ghost stories too. I always think the link between Christmas and spooky tales is odd – must be those long dark evenings in front of the roaring fire I reckon. I look forward to your contribution!

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