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Spinning a Winters Tale

Definition: Explaination of ghost stories at Christmas time.

 

While there's scant proof that the Christmas ghost tale existed as a consciously undertaken tradition before the Victorian era, there is etymological evidence that the tradition stretches back at least to Shakespeare's time. In "A Christmas Tree" (1859), Dickens writes, "There is probably a smell of roasted chestnuts and other good comfortable things over time, for we are telling Winter Stories-Ghost Stories, or more shame for us-round the Christmas fire." That phrase "winter stories" and its variant "winter's tale" had mostly fallen into disuse by Dickens' day, but it refers to a fantastical yarn that one would weave to entertain interlocutors around a wintertime fire.

An even more specific connotation for "winter story" or its relative "winter's tale" notably shows up in Christopher Marlowe's The Jews of Malta (1589) with a very specific definition: a "winter's tale" is a ghost story.

Now I remember those old women's words
Who in my wealth would tell me winter's tales
And speak of spirits and ghosts that glide by night

Shortly thereafter Shakespeare would play on this meaning with A Winter's Tale (1623), in which Prince Maximillius says, "A sad tale's best for winter; I have one / Of sprites and goblins." Later in Saducismus Triumphatis, Joseph Glanville's treatise on witchcraft published posthumously in 1681, Glanville admonishes individuals who dismiss the existence of witchcraft as "meer Winter Tales or Old Wives fables."

Robert Louis Stevenson would later evoke the winter's tale with The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter's Tale (1889). Though the story contains no ghosts of the usual sort, the Master cheats death multiple times. He essentially haunts his brother, Henry, who eventually exclaims, "nothing can kill that man. He is not mortal. He is bound upon my back to all eternity-to all eternity!" Later, after the Master's body has been buried, Henry still does not believe the Master has perished. Henry is incredulous: "He's not of this world, neither him nor that black de'il that serves him."

Collections:

Christmas Ghost Stories

 

Related Categories:

| A Call From Beyond | Automatic Drawing - A Christmas Ghost Story | Christmas Church Ghost | Christmas Eve and Ghost Stories | Christmas Ghost Caress | The Christmas Visitor | Santa Stuffs The Stockings | Santa and and Elf | Santa at the bedroom door | Poltergeist - It Started One Christmas | Haunted Christmas | Bakers Dozen | Eavesdropper | Yule Log - Used for ghost stories | St. Lukes - A Christmas Mass | Mothers Christmas Present | The Pushy Ghost | Warned by Guardian Angel | Hark the Harold Angels Sing | Seaside Ghost | The Lost Ghost | Christmas Phone Call from Heaven | The Golden Feather |

Resources:

  external linkWhy Did Charles Dickens Write Ghost Stories for Christmas?

 

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