One of the victims of capitalism is the tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas time. We tend to relegate such downers to Halloween. Christmas is a cozy time of getting new things, right? Who wants to think of ghosts? I recently read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. An article in the Smithsonian a few years back makes the point that Dickens was cashing in on a venerable tradition. Instead of sending children to bed expecting Santa Claus, it used to be the custom to tell ghost stories on Christmas Eve. That makes sense in context. Christmas was established near the date of the Roman festival Saturnalia and the germanic Yule. These festivities celebrated the passing of the equinox and the slow, but steady increase in light. A liminal period. It seems a natural time to tell ghost tales, no?
The article by Colin Dickey (who has a history of writing about ghosts), calls for bringing back the tradition. Do we want our cozy capitalism interrupted by revenants? Why not? For me the Christmas season is largely about time off of work. I spend the time working on fiction writing that I tend to put off when I have a book under contract. Most of those stories I write are some species of horror, often ghosts. The real haunting factor is I don’t have time during the rest of the year to do the amount of writing that recharges my batteries. Work seems to take more and more time and the Scrooge-like results are, I think, pretty obvious. It’s time to bring back the Christmas ghosts.
Dickey points out that one reason Christmas ghost stories never caught on in America was that Puritans had little taste for them. The more I look at society the more amazed I am at how Puritan we still are, but without their religious ideals (apart from various prohibitions of human behavior). The fact that this article appeared in the respectable Smithsonian makes me feel a little more accepted for my disposition. I know there are many horror fans out there. Poll after poll indicates that people like horror, but, it seems, most don’t like to admit it. At least among those I know in the neighborhood. There are a slew of Christmas monsters. For those who keep track of holiday horror as a sub-genre the most common holiday represented is Christmas. In fact, I just had a Christmas horror story published (under a pseudonym, of course). Maybe ghosts will be able to frighten off the specter of capitalism and bring us back the holiday spirit.
2 thoughts on “Ghosts and Puritans”