“There’ll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow
There’ll be scary ghost stories, and tales of the glories of, Christmases long, long ago.”
A Christmas classic, this 1963 song by Andy Williams describes Christmas traditions, including some we no longer practice. What do scary ghost stories have to do with Christmas? Isn’t that more for Halloween?
“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” was written by Edward Pola and George Wyle in 1963 and recorded by Andy Williams that same year for his first Christmas album. It’s an up-tempo celebration of all things Christmas, particularly spending time with family and friends and the general merriment of the season. The line about scary stories seems out of place in the Christmas classic, but it has its roots in Christmas traditions of the Victorian Era.
It was during the Victorian Era (1837-1901; the reign of Queen Victoria) that Christmas became more widespread and popularly celebrated in England and the United States. Queen Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert brought many Germanic Christmas traditions to Britain. These then trickled over to the United States. One of the most noteworthy was that of decorating the Christmas tree.
Other modern Christmas traditions with roots in Victorian England include sending Christmas cards, caroling, and enjoying Christmas crackers (cookies/sweets). However, one tradition didn’t quite carry over to today — the telling of ghost stories on Christmas Eve.
In Victorian England, families and friends would gather around on Christmas Eve and tell each other spooky stories of ghosts and the supernatural. The tradition had roots even older stretching back hundreds of years to folk traditions of telling ghost stories in the winter as a way to pass the evenings. It was thought that winter, being dark and cold, was the best season for ghost stories.
It was during the Victorian era that Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, in which Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by 3 spirits. A Christmas Carol also helped to popularize Christmas celebrations as well as notions that the holiday should be associated with family, gathering together, goodwill, and charity.
A Christmas Carol’s continued popularity is actually one of the few ways our modern society continues to include those “scary ghost stories” of the Victorian era.
It’s not surprising that Victorians would include the practice of ghost stories in their Christmas celebrations given that era’s fascination with and culture surrounding darker topics such as death, including elaborate mourning etiquette, death photography, and more. (A topic for another day, perhaps, but you can read more here.)
Why the writers of the 1963 song decided to include the then relatively defunct tradition is uncertain. But the song itself has become a traditional part of Christmas and can be heard throughout the season, both the original and its many cover versions. The song’s original version is regularly included in top 10 lists of the most popular Christmas songs.
Read more about Victorian Christmas traditions below: