And if you celebrate Christmas, you’re looking forward to good times. Hopefully. “It is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt,” says Dickens through the mouth of his charity solicitor in A Christmas Carol. That most popular of ghost stories wasn’t the only one Dickens wrote nor the only he published at Christmas.
The English of the 19th C had no lack of ghost stories. Telling ghost stories was a winter tradition for the English and probably Northern Europeans. Scandinavian myths are full of a enough strange tales to freeze the icy heart of Greenland forever. Dickens took the tradition to the fore. He included a Christmas ghost story in Pickwick Papers (1836), followed it up with A Christmas Carol and made the publication of “a ghostly little tale” a yearly habit for much of his career. One appropriately named Christmas Ghosts, a little tale of family ghosts.
So, if your Want this year only includes what to read and you love A Christmas Carol, here’s some additional antique holiday reading for your perusal between cups of nog and Irish cream:
The Goblins who Stole a Sexton: an early Dickens Christmas story more picaresque than the nostalgia of A Christmas Carol. A fun read nonetheless.
The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain: more sinister than Scrooge’s visit with a main character much more sympathetic from the start. Dickens is in high art here, his descriptions of a cold Winter night pushed right to the limit. Shades of Scrooge’s distraught love for his sister is a main force for the story.
Old Christmas, Washington Irving: on a 17 year stay in England, American author Irving made friends with the Bracebridges, an old country family. Squire Bracebridge, the family head, kept to the antiquated Christmas customs and did all he could to recreate them including the boar’s head brought in on a platter, the pageant led by the Lord of Misrule and the hanging of mistletoe. Visiting the family over Christmas Eve, Irving included a remembrance of the night and the following day in his Sketch Book (1826). The Bracebridge Christmas celebration was a bit of an oddity until then. Interest increased after Irving’s book hit big. Dickens himself was a fan of the whole book, influencing him to write The Pickwick Papers. Randolph Caldecott later illustrated these selections of the Sketch Book, publishing them as Old Christmas in 1886. If Dickens is credited with bringing Christmas back to the city, Irving can be considered to have brought it first from the dark fields of English country lore.