December 20, 2013

Twelve Days of Tudor Christmas: Ghost Stories

On the seventh day of our Twelve Days of Tudor Christmas, we will discuss the tradition of telling of Ghost Stories. This tradition, like many Christmas traditions, has pagan roots. The days surrounding Christmas have short, cold days and long, cold nights, leaving those enduring them to sit by the warm hearth. Telling stories by the hearth has been a tradition from the dawn of man. However, around the end of the year, the old spirits go out and the new come in, thus might have some bearing on the tradition of telling stories of spirits. Winter is also said to spark more paranormal activity than other parts of the year.

One story that might have been told by the Tudors is a Medieval ghost story titled Hellequin's Hunt. Probably written by a monk, Orderic Vitalis, it tells of a man who was caught in the forest at night and began to witness supernatural things. First, he heard the echoes of an army, then he saw a giant man carrying a mace. This giant told him to stay still and to watch. He then began to see a series of supernatural voyagers, the first on foot (including some of his dead neighbors). They were lamenting. The rest were tortured in different ways, reflecting their sins. One group, for example, was of women on horseback, riding sidesaddle with the saddles studded with hot nails. Their crime was loving luxury and debauchery. Throughout the story, all social stations were represented - no one escaped...

Since most of the ghost stories told by the Tudors would have been passed down from the Middle Ages, it is no surprise that most of them would have a religious theme.

Like Hellequin's Hunt, the stories were meant to inspire fear in those who heard them, in the hopes of keeping them on the straight and narrow path.

Though the Victorians really popularized the tradition, the Tudors would have certainly sat around the hearth, sipping wassail or egg nog and telling ghost stories. Though the tradition has pretty much died out in our modern celebrations of Christmas, we still reference it. For example, the song It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year features a line saying, "There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago..."

Do you and your family continue the tradition of telling ghost stories around Christmas time?

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