Christmas Ghosts – Tales by the Fireside
It can be argued forever whether or not Charles Dickens ‘invented’ Christmas and the tradition of reading ghost stories by the fireside on a Christmas Eve. It certainly became popular in Victorian times because of him but this is merely when written ghost stories were told. Oral traditions have existed for much longer so it’s almost impossible to say ‘when’ the tradition started. It was such a ubiquitous term that they were simply called ‘Winter Tales’ with the knowledge of the listeners that they were in for a ‘weird’ tale’ or delightfully chilling ghost stories.
Most of the supernatural writings of M.R. James were written specifically to be told of an evening with the informal ‘Chit-Chat Club’ But why ghost stories? And why Christmas? Why not Halloween or All Hallows Eve, if you prefer. That would seem the most appropriate time for a ghostly tale or two. Perhaps because Dickens himself was inspired by the American ghost stories at Halloween. So, I ask again…why Christmas?
They do seem to have been told on All Hallows Eve as well but October is a milder month with more bonfires and outdoor engagements and longer days Winter, with its shorter days, longer nights and lighting being expensive one of the main entertainments of the evening was reading aloud to the assembled group. Being able to read aloud well was a highly prized skill. So highly skilled that there were books on how to read well. It was also a part of the education of children. Firstly to be able to speak well but also to be able to entertain guests to the best of your ability.
Imagine this: You’re sitting with your closest friends and family in a darkened room, lit by a few candles and firelight. Warm and delightfully cozy but with cold and darkness outside is it any wonder that ghost stories, ‘real’, anecdotal or entirely fanciful, should be brought forward and told?
It seems that we’ve never quite gotten over this fascination with associating the macabre with winter. While the early stories were set in any time, any place more modern movies and stories have no qualms about placing the horror squarely in the Christmas season. Santa himself often appears in the role of a villain and older folk tales have risen anew to terrify modern readers and movie-goers alike. Many of them also seem to be rather tongue-in-cheek rather than straight up ‘scare your bells off’ horror.
Which raises the question…what exactly comprises a ‘Christmas Horror’ movie? As Lilyn says, there will be heathens among us (JB Rockwell) who do not classify Die Hard as a Christmas movie (when it most certainly is). But that got us thinking. With all of the movies that have a general Christmas theme which are available, how many of them are ‘true’ Christmas movies rather than just a psycho dressing up as Santa rather than the Easter Bunny or Uncle Sam? Dressing as a turkey would just be silly and would be more likely to get you trussed and eaten rather than feared. So, taking out those movies that could happen at any time or dressed as anything, this is the list of True Christmas Horror that we were able to come up with. We’ll also list a few books but since there are many more books than movies we will limit them to those that fit our criteria.
The Gingerdead Man 2: Passion of the Crust
The Gingerdead Man 3: Saturday Night Cleaver
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Tales from the Crypt: And All Through the House (S1, E2)
Tales from the Darkside: Seasons of Belief (S3,E11)
For some reason slashers in Santa costumes seem to be popular (along with them coming home). I’m assuming because of the incongruity of the ‘good’ Santa costume doing such evil. Yes, they are nominally horror but their plots are almost all the same. I’m sure the movies vary watching them but, at first glance, they seem pretty much the same
So if you’re feeling in the mood for some splattery, bloody horror tip back some eggnog (spiked or otherwise) and pop on a movie where you can gleefully watch ticked off Christmas trees take their revenge on humanity for chopping them down and hanging sparklies on them and wrapping pretty lights around their corpses.
If you know of any others or have seen some of these let us know down below!
GracieKat was the first co-host of Sci-Fi & Scary, Lilyn’s partner-in-crime, and sub-head of the Kali Krew. She reviews horror books, movies, and games for the site. She also does a weekly Focus on the Frightful feature, and is the site list-maker. She is also in control of the Sci-Fi & Scary podcast which will relaunch soon.
Great list and post! I’m sharing some horror films for my Christmas Day post. LOL Wishing you the happiest of holidays:)
Never thought of it this way, but it does make sense that back in the day this was a time that needed more entertainment 🙂 great post, I’ll be sharing.
Yeah, it hadn’t even occurred to me either. I’m happy Grace is as interested in old horror as she is, as it helps with interesting stuff like this!
Thank you! I’m glad people liked it!
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