Why Are ‘Scary Ghost Stories’ In A Christmas Song?
There'll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow
There'll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories of the
Christmases long, long ago
- "It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Edward Pola & George Wyle
That line always stuck out to me. In a song largely constructed of fun, positive, joyous, happy things, "scary ghost stories" sticks out like the sorest of thumbs. Not only that it doesn't quite fit the tone, because unless you're The Addams Family, scary ghost stories are none of those aforementioned adjectives. But also how are scary ghost stories a Christmas tradition? That's Halloween! We just did that for a month. What's going on here?
The fact of the matter is it goes back not only to Charles Dickens and Victorian era celebrations of Christmas, but even further to some the European solstice celebrations.
Some of the modern traditions of Christmas borrow from old Norse, German & Celtic celebrations of the solstice, including the tree, lights, stockings, gift giving, Saint Nicolas, and that includes the telling of ghost stories. The night of the winter solstice is the longest duration of nighttime of the year, and early Europeans believed this marked the blurring of the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead. It's kinda like that line from Game of Thrones, "The night is dark and full of terrors." Stories would be told ghosts and spirits haunting the night and thus a tradition was born.
Fast forward through Christianity's rise to prominence in Europe, there was a strong, successful push by the Puritans to abolish the celebration of Christmas, as the celebrations of the day are not explicitly outlined in the Bible, only the Lord's Day, the Sabbath. The decline in the celebration and observance of Christmas continued as Europeans colonized the Americas, so the tradition, or lack there of, continued on both sides of the Atlantic. In fact, Christmas has been banned and unbanned several times over the past 350 years, depending on who was sitting on the throne in England, and it wasn't even an officially recognized holiday in the United States until the 1850s.
Christmas just wasn't a thing, at least not as we now know and celebrate and observe it. It wasn't until 1843 when Charles Dickens reignited the Christmas spark, and indeed the ghost story tradition, with A Christmas Carol.
The tradition lived on while Queen Victoria held the crown until 1901 and then slowly faded over the years until now when we just watch whatever happens to be our favorite version of A Christmas Carol. Me? I prefer either the Patrick Stewart version or Scrooged with Bill Murray. The Muppet Christmas Carol is also really good. Michael Caine's a great Scrooge.