5 Holiday Ghost Stories That Are Actually Surprisingly Creepy

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Long before yuletide traditions included stockings, eggnog, and ugly sweaters, the Christmas season was considered the perfect time of year to sit around the fire with friends and family and share scary stories. If you want to incorporate the ancient custom into your modern celebration, there are plenty of holiday ghost stories you can read online.

When you think of Christmastime, what comes to mind? Is it sugar cookies and gingerbread houses, mistletoe and holly, or maybe lighthearted carols and sentimental movies about Santa Claus? Chances are, it isn't ghost stories, but the tradition of telling spooky stories during the holiday season goes back further than most of the customs we abide by today.

In Europe and in the United States, Christmas and many of its traditions are inspired by pagan customs associated with the Winter Solstice. According to religious studies professor Justin Daniels, "he darkest day of the year was seen by many as a time when the dead would have particularly good access to the living." As part of the celebration of that time of year, people would gather together with friends and family and swap ghost stories about life, death, rebirth, and new beginnings.

Charles Dickens may have penned the most famous yuletide ghost story with his 1843 work A Christmas Carol, but the English author's spooky seasonal tale is far from the only one. Here are five other holiday ghost stories that you can read online for free, in case you want to add a little fright to the most festive time of the year.

"The Kit-Bag" by Algernon Blackwood

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In this 1908 tale from prolific ghost story writer Algernon Blackwood, a law clerk gets more than he bargained for when borrows a travel bag from his employer, who was just found innocent of murder. It has everything you expect in a Christmas story — snow, family, good cheer — and a whole lot you'll never see coming.

Read the story in full here.

"Dark Christmas" by Jeanette Winterson

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In this Christmas ghost story from the author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, a group of friends head to Highfallen House, a Victorian gentleman's residence, for the holidays. When an old-fashioned Nativity set appears in the attic, what is meant to be an idyllic trip takes a truly creepy turn.

Read the story in full here.

"Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" by M.R. James

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While on a seaside vacation for the holidays, a snooty professor discovers an old whistle with a strange Latin inscription. Unable to translate the warning, he blows it, setting off a series of eerie and utterly creepy events.

Read the story in full here.

"Smee" by A.M. Burrage

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A group of young people play hide-and-seek on Christmas Eve in this ghost story from A.M. Burrage. Of course, they discover much more than each other in the rooms of the house where a young girl died.

Listen to the story in full here.

"Ofodile" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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In this chilling tale, written by Americanah author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for The Guardian's Christmas ghost stories series, the lives of a Nigerian family is disrupted when new neighbors stop by to visit. But who is the ghost in this emotional tale? You'll have to read to find out.

Read the story in full here.