Tis the Season Day 3: Victorian Ghost Stories

We have reached day three of Tis the Season and today I will be tying Christmastime with academia.

I had the pleasure of spending the past semester in a Victorian Lit and Culture class.  When you think about it, the Victorians are really the ones responsible for Christmas as we know it today.  They began traditions like singing carols and waiting for Saint Nicholas.  Prince Albert is responsible for bringing the practice of bringing evergreen trees into homes, a tradition he carried over from Germany when he married Queen Victoria.  One tradition, however, did not continue into the twenty-first century: Christmas Eve ghost stories.

Why ghost stories on Christmas?  According to a KnowledgeNuts article, they are a remnant from pre-Christmas pagan practices.  You see, the Christmas was strategically placed on December 25 because various festivals, rites, and rituals were already associated with the Winter solstice. Due to these practices, “the solstice was also considered the most haunted day of the year due to its association with the death of light. The barrier between the world of the living and the realm of the dead was supposedly lowered on this day.”

Superstition was aided by technological advances.  Modern gas lamps provided eerily dim light, leaving room for the imagination.  In a creaky old house filled with flickering shadows, ghosts were easily believable.

Dickens, of course, was a firm supporter of the Christmas Eve ghost story tradition.  What first comes to mind, of course, is A Christmas Carol, a story so deeply ingrained in our culture that we all know the story.  (I admit, I haven’t read it.  But I hope to someday!)  We all know of the hard-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge who is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.  Always big on enforcing strong moral messages, Dickens nails Scrooge’s story with a lesson on appreciating life and showing kindness to those less fortunate.

A lover of drama, Dickens took immense pleasure in doing readings of his work.  Last Fall, when I toured the Charles Dickens Museum, I actually got to stand in the room of his house where he used to present read to his family and friends.  They still have the podium he used.  He would stand there on Christmas Eve and read off his latest ghost story for his loved ones, thrilling them with dramatic voices and pauses.  It was really a treat getting to see into the famous author’s world.

I stumbled upon many fascinating and fun articles while researching for this post, and my favorite was probably one from The Guardian by Kira Cochrane.  If this post has piqued your interest, I highly recommend checking her article out!

What do you think about the Victorians and their ghost stories?  Do you wish this tradition was still around today?  Why or why not?

Halloween in Scotland: A scary story from my time abroad

I kind of dropped the ball on Halloween this year.  After briefly considering slapping together a “Hipster Belle” outfit, I abandoned the idea after an unsuccessful thrift store run.  Then school took over my life, and holidays were out of the picture completely.  It’s been a blast, though, seeing my fellow students wandering out campus in various costumes.  I’ve passed Loki, demonic bunnies, Anna from Frozen, pirates, Homestuck characters, Mario and Luigi, Link, Catwoman, and many others.  I did a double take as I passed one of my former professors dressed in a gorilla suit.

In light of my lack of plans, how about I tell about what happened to me around Halloween last year?  It’s a pretty good story, and fits the holiday well.

A year ago, I was in Edinburgh, Scotland.  We took the morning train up from London and spent the afternoon wandering the streets, touring the castle, and dining at the Elephant House (the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote the first few Harry Potter books.)

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View from Edinburgh Castle.  Photo by me.

Once the sun had set, we did a ghost tour of the oldest parts of the city.

Guided by a charismatic young Scotsman named Hugh, we wandered around St. Giles Cathedral, down some of the closes, and learned about public hangings, beheadings, and the nightly gardyloo (where everyone dumped their chamber pots into the street).  We then went indoors and Hugh showed us a room filled with medieval torture devices.  He explained how all of them work.  Let me tell you… Edinburgh was a VIOLENT city.

Then, we went into the secret underground vaults.  These vaults had been used way back when for tons of different purposes, varying from illegal pubs, hiding spaces from fires, and a place for homeless people to escape from punishment (apparently, it wasn’t legal to be homeless in the medieval times).  Then, at some point, they had been locked up, forgotten, and left to fester for over a hundred years.  They were rediscovered by some students in the 1970’s.

When I hear ghost tours, I usually expect interesting historical stories mixed with the occasional story about a creepy incident that happened there.  There’s a hint of reality to the hauntings, but mainly shameless tourism and fun history.

Yeah… that’s not the case in Scotland.

The vaults we entered were home to all sorts of horrific events.  Murders, cholera, famine, plague, rape, violence, brawling, people locked in and left to go blind and die, and countless cases of violence followed by rape followed by gang rape followed by murder.

There was a Wiccan temple in one of the rooms, all lit up and decorated in colorful banners and trappings.  There was a room with a stone circle where the Wiccans had supposedly trapped a demon.  In one of the rooms, Hugh made the girls stand on one side of the room and boys on the other.  Apparently, people were frequently tossed about violently by unseen forces and separating the genders sedated the activity.  We were then told that the room we were in was the most haunted room in Scotland.  At this point, my friends Mackenzie, Anna, and Marisa and I huddled close together.

It was, without a doubt, the darkest place I had ever been.  The very air felt evil.  As Hugh guided us from room to room, telling us story after story of the ghosts that haunt the place, I could feel their dark presences.  Being a Christian, I knew that I was protected from all forces of darkness, but that night I learned all too well what it feels like to be in the presence of demons.  I could feel them reaching out at me, scraping at my spirit like fingernails on a blackboard.

When the tour finally ended and we stepped into the cool Scottish night, Anna turned to us and said, “That was the worst place I’ve ever been.  I need a drink.”  So we finished the evening at the hostel’s bar sipping cider and thinking about our tour of the Highlands the next day.

This all happened the night after Halloween.  It’s the scariest story I have to tell, and I hope it stays that way.  The thing about my encounter is that forces of darkness are real and coming face to face with them changes your perspective.  It’s not something you easily forget.

So there you have it, readers.  My scary Halloween story.

What’s the scariest thing to ever happen to you?

Or, here’s a lighter question: What did you dress up as for Halloween?