I am reading the historical novel, Wolf Hall, about the life of Thomas Cromwell and his intrigues with Henry the VIII. In the novel, the author references the well-known fact that ghosts are astir during the holiday season, and that got me to wondering about ghosts and Christmas. Of course, the first thought most of us have is Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” with its ghosts of past, present and future. In much more recent lore, here’s a line in “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (1963) that references the “scary ghost stories/and tales of the glories/of Christmases long long ago.”
Reading up on the topic and thinking about Henry VIII, I came across multiple connections to Anne Boleyn, unfortunate second wife of Henry VIII, who is reputed to walk the grounds of her beloved Hever Castle on Christmas Eve. I discovered that she is just one of many ghosts connected to Christmas. Next to Halloween, Christmas is the most haunted time of the year. (I could write some song lyrics for that, I think.)
While most connections between ghosts and Christmas center on the Winter solstice, I found one source that highlights the proliferation of Victorian ghost stories to economic changes and the development of gas lamps?
Lighting was often provided by gas lamps, which have also been implicated in the rise of the ghost story; the carbon monoxide they emitted could provoke hallucinations. And there was a preponderance of people encountering ghosts in their daily life come the middle of the century. In 1848, the young Fox sisters of New York heard a series of tappings, a spirit apparently communicating with them through code, and their story spread quickly. The vogue for spiritualism was under way. Spiritualists believed spirits residing in the afterlife were potentially able to commune with the living, and they set up seances to enable this.The most ancient origins of ghosts at Christmas come from the Celts and their celebration of the Yule, the winter solstice, when the old year gives way to the new. In this ancient celebration, ghosts of the dead are roaming during this time of rebirth and return of the sun. I found an excellent discussion about the connection of the winter solstice and the longest night of the year being the perfect time for ghosts to roam about. People light candles and burn fires to chase away these spirits and to welcome the sun’s return. Many a night, when I’ve gone into the yard to lock up the chickens, the darkness of winter has seemed darker than usual. I would not be surprised if I saw a ghost or two.
I’m not convinced by this explanation above, but it leads me toward more exploration! I’m on the hunt for good Christmas ghost stories.