It was Christmas Eve. I begin this way because it is the proper, orthodox, respectable way to begin, and I have been brought up in a proper, orthodox, respectable way, and taught to always do the proper, orthodox, respectable thing; and the habit clings to me.Of course, as a mere matter of information it is quite unnecessary to mention the date at all. The experienced reader knows it was Christmas Eve, without my telling him. It always is Christmas Eve, in a ghost story,Christmas Eve is the ghosts’ great gala night.
And not only do the ghosts themselves always walk on Christmas Eve, but live people always sit and talk about them on Christmas
Eve. Whenever five or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories. Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about spectres. It is a genial, festive season, and we love to muse upon graves, and dead bodies, and murders, and blood. …
There must be something ghostly in the air of Christmas — something about the close, muggy atmosphere that draws up the ghosts, like the dampness of the summer rains brings out the frogs and snails.
Told After Supper
Jerome K. Jerome
Though he writes with his tongue firmly planted in cheek Jerome K. Jerome was quite right: nothing is more satisfy on Christmas Eve or at Christmastide than a ghost story. Just think of how often you’ve watched or listened to that most Christmasy of ghost stories and revelled in the redemption of old Scrooge. And it is, after all, only a ghost story – actually a four ghost story.
In Jerome’s little satire on Victorian ghost stories nothing quite works out as he and his family attempt to frighten each other with rather work-a-day phantoms and sadly mundane un-unnatural occurrences. However there are enough English writers who have succeeded in chilling the blood to satisfy anyone’s desire for a good scare of a Christmas Eve or any other wintry night for that matter.
In previous years I’ve written about the tradition of Christmas ghost stories and included two episodes of the BBC’s Ghost Stories for Christmas series. Both The Stalls of Barchester and The Tractate Middoth sprang from the fertile imagination of arguably the greatest writers of ghost stories in the English language: M. R. James. So I thought for this twelfth night of Christmas a ghostly tale about and in the style of the Master would match the winter wind that has blown our way in the past few days.
However this time I realized that the best ghost stories are often heard not seen. So in the spirit of the season – and perhaps the radio programmes I grew up with (Inner Sanctum and Suspense) – and invoking those Christmas nights long ago when people gathered around to listen to a tale I’m posting a BBC radio drama first broadcast in 2003. One of a series by Stephen Sheridan it offers a fictional account of how James became fascinated by the supernatural.
So turn the lights down low, open the curtains so the moonlight will cast the shadows of the blowing branches of the trees across the room, listen to the whistling wind and give ear to what happened in The House at World’s End.