What Do Ghost Stories Have to Do With Christmas?

In Victorian England, telling ghost stories was an important part of Christmas; the tradition never caught on in the U.S.
In Victorian England, telling ghost stories was an important part of Christmas; the tradition never caught on in the U.S.

There's the Christmas spirit, and then there are the spirits of Christmas. It never really caught on in America, but in Victorian England, telling ghost stories at Christmastime was common. Originally an oral tradition, the custom eventually developed into a written one.

In the 19th century, "higher literacy rates, cheaper printing costs, and more periodicals meant that editors needed to fill pages,” said Tara Moore, author of Victorian Christmas in Print. “Around Christmas time, they figured they could convert the old storytelling tradition to a printed version.” For centuries, telling spooky tales had been a way of passing the time during the long dark nights at the end of the year. "They spent their leisure hours huddled close to the fire,” Moore said. "Plus, you didn’t need to be literate to retell the local ghost story."

It was during the Victorian era that scary story authors like Arthur Conan Doyle, Margaret Oliphant, and Elizabeth Gaskell became popular, and it was common for families to gather and read the stories aloud.

Victorian oddities:

  • To mourn, Victorian women often wore jade or onyx rings with the deceased person's hair inside; some women put their tears into bottles.

  • Coal was so widely used that wearing black was a necessity; otherwise, colorful clothes would quickly turn gray.

  • Body snatching for medical use was so widespread in the Victorian era that some thieves didn't wait for a person to die before carting him off to the lab.

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    • In Victorian England, telling ghost stories was an important part of Christmas; the tradition never caught on in the U.S.
      In Victorian England, telling ghost stories was an important part of Christmas; the tradition never caught on in the U.S.