Guest Post by Author Ariella Sexton
Ghost Stories and Dickensian Christmas
It’s the 1700s. Winter has come.
You are a young maiden of twelve. You live in the country. Your family is poor. You must go to work to support your family. There is no survival otherwise. The land is covered in snow. You have no shoes. Your hands and feet are wrapped in fabric scraps to protect against the cold-no frozen Charlottes here. The times of green, budding life, and easily found food are gone. Wood is hard to find and coal too expensive for your meager means.
Electricity hasn’t been invented yet, so when the sun sets, work must end. You tromp home in the dying light. At home, the long hours until bedtime stretch before you. You are cooped up in your small house, huddled around the fire with your siblings who are just as tired, cold, and hungry as you are.
You hope that your parents have dug up some truffles, onions, or potatoes. If they haven’t then you all must rely on whatever has been stored back for winter- a supply that you watch diminish day by day. You hope if nothing else that some traveling peddler will carry food out to you. Even if they did, though, you aren’t sure if there’s enough money for your family to buy it.
Things you would be enduring in those moments- anxiety, stress, cabin fever, worry, melancholy, poverty. Sure, not everyone in the 18th century lived this way- but a lot of them did. Wealth, or even enough money, was rather the exception than the rule.
Is it any wonder then that the ghost story became a staple of the era? Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol- still a holiday favorite- was less a miracle, but more of an astutely observed trend that he capitalized upon. It makes sense that he felt confident enough about the story to invest the money required to publish it.
It’s no small secret that humans are wired for story. Reaching several millennia back, our cave-dwelling ancestors sat around a campfire listening to tales of previous hunts, warfare, and famine. The hunger for story, then, is imprinted in our DNA.
One would think that scary stories in an anxiety-laden time would make things worse. However, recent studies, done during COVID actually, found the opposite to be true. In fact, for some, the horror genre brought the release of anxiety through safe exposure.
During those hours before the fire, Mom, Dad, or another sibling will mention some name that sounds vaguely familiar or a house that you know you mustn’t go near. They’ll hint with a bit of a smile that some terrible thing happened. After much begging and cajoling, they’ll dole out the morbidly delicious morsel- a tale of ghosts, crime, or insanity (maybe even all three!)
You’ll find then that the little ball of anxiety in your chest will start to unravel. You’ll even find that you’re thankful. Thankful that it didn’t happen to you or anyone you know. Though food be scarce and the wind chilling, you’ll find that you are thankful. There is a roof over your head. You have a family that loves you.
In that moment, that will be enough for you.
If this tableau has you hankering for more haint filled horror, I strongly suggest you check out the other ghost stories by Charles Dickens. According to my research, he penned several of them, some of which were comedic. His ghost stories back in the day were so popular that they were admired by other big names in horror during the era such as M. R. James and J. Sheridan Le Fanu.