The Scary Book of Christmas Lore: 50 Terrifying Yuletide Tales from
Around the World by Tim Rayborn (Cider Mill Press, November 14, 2023)
Anyone who has ever read, or watched a screen-version of, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843) knows that the tradition of telling ghost stories during the holidays goes back to the early Victorian era. In the 19th century, the celebration of Christmas underwent a transformation, influenced in part by the works of writers such as Charles Dickens and Washington Irving. These authors, among others, painted romantic visions of the season as a time for festive gatherings, family reunions, and acts of kindness, playing a large role in the Christmas images we have today.
However, alongside the cheerful and heartwarming aspects of Christmas, the Victorians had a lingering fascination with the supernatural. This interest in ghost stories and the macabre was likely influenced by earlier traditions and folklore associated with the winter season, particularly the ancient pagan celebrations of the winter solstice, when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead were thin.
Table of Contents for The Scary Book of Christmas Lore
In the Victorian era, people would gather around the fireplace during the Christmas season to share ghost stories as a form of entertainment. This practice was likely fueled by the long, dark nights of winter, creating a spooky backdrop for tales of the eerie and supernatural. It became a social tradition, with families and friends taking pleasure in scaring the snot out of each other as part of their holiday festivities.
Being raised in a very traditional Swedish household, my family would celebrate the American version of Christmas on December 24th; opening the gifts delivered by a real life “Jultomten” (Santa Claus) in an elaborate red, fur-trimmed suit. December 25th began the “twelve days of Christmas” which involved social activities each day through January 5. Part of our December 24th tradition was to watch the 1938 black and white version of A Christmas Carol, starring Reginald Owen as Scrooge. If you’ve seen it you will understand when I say it sports a pretty high creep factor, likely contributing significantly to my goth leanings.
So, being a person who has a lifelong association with ghost stories at the holidays, I was very excited to learn of the recent release of The Scary Book of Christmas Lore: 50 Terrifying Yuletide Tales from Around the World by Tim Rayborn. My copy is enroute from Amazon, but here are some of the aforementioned “terrifying Yuletide tales.”
- Krampus (Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, and northern Italy), a demonic half-goat monster who drags chains and whips bad children with birch sticks, or stuffs them in his sack to take away
- The Kallikantzari (Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Turkey), goblins who come out during Advent to cause mischief
- Père Fouettard (France, Belgium, Switzerland), Saint Nicholas’ eternal cannibal manservant who deals with naughty children
- Hans Trapp (Alsace-Lorraine, France), who roams the countryside disguised as a scarecrow and goes door to door on Christmas looking for children to feast upon
- Gryla (Iceland), the giant ogre who emerges from her cave on Christmas to hunt children and cook them into stew
- Mari Lwyd (Wales), a creature with a horse’s skull and a long cloak that is followed by a group of chanting people
- Frau Perchta (Austria and Bavaria), who slits the bellies of bad children and stuffs them with straw
Now if that doesn’t put you in the holiday mood, I don’t know what will. I can’t wait to pull out my copy of The Scary Book of Christmas Lore on December 24 and begin indoctrinating the younger members of my family.