Night has fallen. The tree is trimmed and glimmering its vibrant lights. You’ve warmed yourself a healthy dose of mulled wine as you sit before the warmth of the crackling fireplace. The scene is set. Now, it’s time for the telling of some eerie, festive ghost stories once again.
(Listed in publication order)
1. “The Ghost of the Cross-Roads” by Fredrick Manley (1893) – Set in Ireland, a group of friends meet together at one of their homes to celebrate Christmas despite the heavy winter storm raging outside. They are about to tell ghost stories when a scream is heard from outside. Opening the door a man bursts in to collapse on the floor in obvious bad shape from having been in the bad weather too long. Once they nurse him back to health, he tells them he’d gotten lost walking back to his inn from a party but encountered a man dressed all in black who helped lead him to the cross-road sign so he could find his way back from there. This stranger asks if he’ll play him a game of cards as payback for the assistance. He reluctantly agrees but discovers he may be risking more than he thought and that this man-in-black is something far worse than he initially appeared.
2. “Thurlow’s Christmas Story” by J. K. Banks (1898) – Thurlow is a successful writer employed by the Idler magazine. He agrees to pen a new Christmas ghost story for publication in the magazine which they have already begun advertising, but finds himself struggling to come up with a suitable tale. This is made worse when he encounters a sneering doppelgänger (double) of himself on the stairs. This spectral run-in plunges him deeper into despair making the crafting of a Christmas ghost story even more impossible and putting his job in jeopardy. A potential solution comes to him right at the deadline, but accepting it involves a moral quandary.
3. “Passenger From Crewe” by Frederick Cowles (1936) – While not strictly Christmas-themed, this story is set during December. It begins when a man gets on a train and is surprised to find another passenger has somehow managed to slip into his compartment without his knowledge. This ill-looking passenger relates a tragic tale of something which happened on that train in the past, but how did he come to know that story? You can listen to this one here for free: https://hypnogoria.blogspot.com/2020/12/from-great-library-of-dreams-24.html
4. “The Wild Wood” by Mildred Clingerman (1954) – A woman dreads going with her husband and children to pick out a Christmas tree every year due to the lecherous attention the owner the tree shop pays her. You can listen to a free reading here: http://pseudopod.org/2019/12/20/pseudopod-680-the-wild-wood/
5. “The Gift” by G.W. Howarth (1994) – A disgruntled train passenger is initially irritated when a new passenger chooses his compartment to stay in despite there being plenty of other empty ones from which to choose, but then he learns the secret of the opulent little phial he carries with him and the supernatural power it holds. This is a heartfelt, somber tale with a message fitting for the Christmas season.
6. “Wassailing” by Steve Lockley (2012) – A lifelong resident of a quiet country village in the Cotswolds welcomes an outsider from the city who’s just bought a house in the area. The newcomer wants to revitalize the empty Orchard House and asks for advice. The resident advises him he should make sure he’s on the wassailing list for Christmas Day. He agrees but finds the local tradition is more than he expected.
7. “The Second Floor of the Christmas Hotel” by Joe R. Lansdale (2018) – A childhood friend asks the story’s narrator to accompany him to the abandoned hotel his family owns on Christmas Eve night. He claims to have experienced a terrifying ghostly manifestation in room #12 on the second floor of the old building and that it returns every Christmas Eve. He suspects it’s tied to the disappearance of a beautiful young girl who attended a party there on just such a date many years before. This is an excellent ghost story by Lansdale.
8. “Aianna” by Dan Foley (2019) – A wood sprite experiences horror as the pine tree that is her home and which is linked to her lifeforce is chopped down and dragged into a family’s house to serve as their Christmas tree. Unable to comprehend the reason for this, she begins to slowly die in tandem with her host tree, but she won’t go quietly. (This one can be found in the anthology A Tree Lighting in Deathlehem which also contains my story “Lovely Weather For An Unseelie Ride Together”)
9. “Late Sleepers” by Steve Rasnic Tem (2020) – A college student regrets going home for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays due to the constant arguments he endures from his family. He ducks out of the house early one morning and finds himself at a small, local movie theater on its final day of operation. He buys a ticket for the only movie showing called Late Sleepers which is followed by a clip reel. The manager is a hulking, aggressive man who demands that no one ever sleep in his theater. The movie is strange and the proceeding clip scenes include the most horrific and grizzly ones from the many films shown there over the years. He soon begins to realize something is not right with the showing. This is another excellent tale by Steve Rasnic Tem which you can listen to for free here: https://pseudopod.org/2020/11/27/pseudopod-733-late-sleepers/
Previous Christmas Horror Reading Lists:
Article by Matt Cowan