In the Andy Williams classic Christmas song "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," one verse promises some specific activities that will be part of the celebration:
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
Christmases long, long ago
I (and you) have heard that song a million times. but until this year I (and you?) never focused on the promise of "scary ghost stories." It caught me off guard earlier this month - "GHOST stories? really?" - and so I took to Google to see what I could learn.
Other people have wondered the same thing. As it turns out, Christmastime ghost stories are a long-observed tradition, going back to at least Victorian England. As the linked article notes, British author Jerome K. Jerome wrote in an 1890s ghost story anthology that "whenever five or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories,” and “nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about specters." The most famous Christmastime ghost story, of course, is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but it turns out that there are many, many more. And the tradition continues in England today; the BBC traditionally runs a ghost story adaptation around the holidays, including a series of original stories from the 1970s that have been popular on DVD.
A long and thorough history of Christmas ghost stories, from the olden days to now, is here in two parts (1, 2).