Not really, you lovely people. But over here on the far side of the Atlantic, there is a very strong tradition to do just that.
Christmases in the Northern Hemisphere have long dark nights. So it became a tradition on Christmas Eve in Britain to sit together and listen to someone read a ghost story.
Ghosts hold a unique position in the supernatural hierarchy, treading, or perhaps floating, in the limbo land between religion and pure fiction. Their lack of physicality provides scope for their use as truly horrific, or pure fun. Nearly headless Nick and Casper immediately spring to mind as examples of the latter in children’s fiction. As a literary device, they are invaluable, too, for finding out things that mere mortals would find impossible.
Just ask Scrooge
When it comes to ghostly tales, the best, in my opinion, are those which leave much to the imagination. Those that suggest a terror rather than describe its every detail. If you have yet to read any of M R James’ tales, you are in for a treat. Widely recognised as the doyen of the genre, his stories were written in the early 1900s, but are contemporary and chilling even now.
When questioned, this is what he said about his technique. “Two ingredients most valuable in the concocting of a ghost story are, to me, the atmosphere and the nicely managed crescendo.… Let us, then, be introduced to the actors in a placid way; let us see them going about their ordinary business, undisturbed by forebodings, pleased with their surroundings; and into this calm environment let the ominous thing put out its head, unobtrusively at first, and then more insistently, until it holds the stage.”
My own favourite of his is The Mezotint, published in 1904. You can read it here – if you dare. But don’t worry if you get to frightened–the cure is lots of chocolate.Keep safe.