Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

I Am Not Making This Up: Having The Dickens Scared Out Of Christmas

Written By: Tracy - Nov• 27•17

Unless you are a fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas, you probably leave the ghosts and other creepy stuff firmly behind in Halloween.

But this hasn’t always been the case. Prior to the Victorian era, Christmas was a darker holiday, one in which ghosts and ghost stories were a big part.

In Europe prior to Dickens, Christmas was a holiday with pagan roots. The days were short, and many believed that the darkest day of the year was a day when the dead could return.

At least in part, celebrations around the winter solstice meet a human need. The days are short and dreary. In seasonal agrarian societies, there is a season of forced inactivity. Humans need something to break up the monotony. The Norse had Yule. Pagan Rome observed the death and rebirth of Sol Invictus.

In England, Oliver Cromwell suppressed Christmas celebrations in the mid-seventeenth century. Cromwell was a Puritan. (The same guys who came to America on the Mayflower and had the debatably first Thanksgiving.) Cromwell and the other puritans objected to celebrating a Catholic holiday that had pagan origins.

In the American colonies, the puritans banned Christmas (though it was celebrated in New York and Virginia). Post Revolutionary War, the newly-minted Americans threw the holiday out, along with other English traditions (though the Dutch and Germans held onto their traditions).

By Dickens’s time, the holiday was just another day to many. Dickens often gets credit with single-handedly saving Christmas. (Although Queen Victoria’s German husband Prince Albert reintroduced some traditions from Germany, like the Christmas tree, and popular writer Washington Irving had written quite a bit about Christmas.)

Dickens’s smash book emphasized charity, family and goodwill (as opposed to carousing). It started a resurgence of Christmas traditions the way Harry Potter started collegiate Quidditch leagues.

Dickens drew on old traditions, such as telling ghost stories. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is visited by his late business partner Jacob Marley and is able to see more formerly-human spirits out his window.

During Christmas gatherings, people would gather around a fire, tongues would loosen under the influence of a different kind of spirit and then the ghost stories would also flow.

Party games might have included some form of divination. For example, some girls would peel an apple and throw the peels on the ground. The peel was supposed to curl into the shape of their future husband’s initial.

But sometime between Dickens and now, ghost stories at Christmas have fallen by the wayside. Unless your name is Tim Burton, (or you work at the Haunted Mansion) chances are good that your skeletons don’t wear Santa hats, and your ghosts don’t hang out under the mistletoe.

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