How Telling Ghost Stories Around A Fire Used To Be A Christmas Tradition, Until Halloween Took Over

By | October 18, 2019

Victorians loved scaring each other

With the nights growing longer and a chill filling the air, is there a better way to stay warm than curling up around the hearth to tell a ghost story? Halloween may hold our horrid hearts in its ghoulish hands, but long before trick-or-treaters were banging on our doors, people were telling stories of ghosts and goblins on another holiday: Christmas.

It makes sense if you think about it. The yuletide fills us with hope for the new year and a longing to reconnect with the people we've lost. That's why, every year, people of the Victorian era gathered around the fire and told Christmas ghost stories.

test article image
Source: (

More so than perhaps any other generation, people in the 19th century loved to scare their friends with a spooky story. The most famous horror story of the last 200 years, Frankenstein, was dreamt up in 1816, the "year without a summer" when volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Tambora blanketed the Earth, locking it in an inescapable winter. 

But Victorians didn't need to blot out the Sun to be inspired to fright and delight. It was Christmas tradition to sit around the fire with family members while telling tales of vengeful apparitions and frightful spirits. Having the misfortune of living in a time before specialized medicine or easy access to healthcare, death was constantly on their minds anyway, and winter was particularly rife with it. mind of the Victorians. What better time to tell a story that offered a look behind the veil of the grave?

Winter words are the scariest of them all

test article image
Source: (

When storytellers describe something ghastly, whether it be the skeletal hand of an apparition or the feeling that one gets when they feel like they're being watched, they often use imagery that recalls the coldest months of the year. They write of the chill that runs down a person's spine or the skin of the recently undead that freezes to the touch.

Aside from simply describing a sensation, writers use wintry verbiage to bring out feelings of loss and isolation. We often think of winter as a time when everything dies, and the winter solstice is when Earth is at its coldest and furthest from the Sun.