Spooky stories not just for Halloween in Victorian era

We usually associate ghost stories with Halloween, but Victorian England considered them to be an essential part of the celebration of Christmas. In fact, they were so integral that magazines often published serials in the weeks leading up to the holiday and authors often wrote spooky tales specifically for the season.

Some historians say the pairing began with the Druids, who believed that the membrane between the living and the dead thinned out during the dark of winter. So, much the way we appreciate a good fright in safe company, they gathered around fires and bonded over the tales a part of their solstice customs. As Europe gradually adopted Christianity, this was one of the old traditions that was folded in. When Oliver Cromwell came to power, his Puritanical beliefs fueled the 1644 ordinance that abolished the Christmas holiday.

Although the Restoration paved the way for celebrations to again happen, few people did so — until Charles Dickens stumbled upon a platform to share his ideas about child labor and assisting the needy. The first edition of “A Christmas Carol” was published on December 19, 1843 and the entire run sold out within the week.

Very quickly, the story of Scrooge became a handbook for how to celebrate Christmas. Victorians embraced Dickens’ interpretation of the holiday including caroling, feasting, gifting and ghosts.

While many of those ideas continue today, somehow the ghosts faded away. There have been attempts to revive the tradition, yet none have taken hold. But don’t let that stop you from dabbling in a true Dickensian holiday by sharing a ghost story around the fire.

Fortunately, many of the original Victorian Christmas ghost stories are available electronically. From our website at https://www.hinsdalelibrary.info, click on Digital Resources then Downloadables. If you’ve never used our digital resources, there are short videos to guide you through the process for Hoopla, Kanopy, and our eMedia Library. (If ghost stories aren’t for you, you can also download or stream other seasonal movies, TV shows and music from there.)

Start a new holiday tradition this year by reading “The Old Nurses Story” by Elizabeth Gaskell (1852), “The Kit-Bag” by Algernon Blackwood (1908), “Between the Lights” by E. F. Benson (1912), “The Dead” by James Joyce (1914) or “Smee” by A.M. Burrage (1931). Considered by many to be the king of Christmas ghost stories, try M. R. James’ “Ash Tree” (1904) or “Treasure of Abbot Thomas” (1904), “Warning” (1925), or “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral” (1910).

And, finally, some other of Dickens’ dark tales written specifically for the holiday include “The Trial for Murder” (1865), “To Be Read at Dusk” (1852), “The Signal-Man” (1861), and “The Haunted House” (1859).

— Lisa Knasiak is the materials

management manager at

Hinsdale Public Library.