7 Terrifying Festive Ghost Stories That Aren't Just 'A Christmas Carol'

by Aoife Hanna
Originally Published: 
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Although you might think of pumpkin season when it comes to the spookier types of stories, in actual fact Christmas has long been a chance to tell a ghoulish tale. So much so that picking the best Christmas ghost stories is a bit of a bind.

What's more terrifying than spending several days under the same roof as a whole bunch of other adults? Ugh, chilling. Well actually being haunted by terrifyingly spooky ghouls is pretty rough and definitely a worse situation. Especially when it comes to cosy nights by the fire telling each other creepy Christmas stories.

There are some more famous than others. One in particular has actually become a part of the Yuletide vernacular. Ever been called a Scrooge? Hey, me too. The main character of Dickens' legendary ghost story A Christmas Carol was negging the festive period long before the Grinch was made famous for effing things up in Whoville.

The common thread with most Christmas ghost stories, according to The Paris Review, is a "convivial atmosphere" that turns into a bit of a spookfest. So what I'm saying is, this could totally happen to you.

On that cheery note, grab cut a pair of eye holes in an old bed sheet, grab a bunch of chains, and let's get to haunting.


'A Christmas Carol' — Charles Dickens

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A Christmas Carol by Dickens, published way back in 1843, is undeniably the most beloved of the Christmas ghost stories.

Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserly, miserable man who hates Christmas and seems to have long since forgotten how to perform acts of human kindness. In this story he's visited not only by the ghost of his dead colleague but also the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. With, real talk, truly terrifying results.

More Christmassy than your nan getting drunk on brandy butter.

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'Oh Whistle & I'll Come To You My Lad' — M.R. James

M.R. James is arguably one of the best ever British writers of ghost stories. And, according to the BFI, this particular tale of his has undergone multiple film and TV adaptations — including a version from Jonathon Miller that went out at Christmas time in 1968.

Oh Whistle & I'll Come To You My Lad is based in a made up English town called Burnstow. A snooty Cambridge professor is on his holidays by the seaside when he finds an old whistle with a mysterious and unreadable Latin inscription on its side. Without knowing that the message is in fact a warning, he blows the whistle. After that, he's haunted by terrifying nightmares and images of dark mysterious figures. Not one to watch with the kids.

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'Dark Christmas' — Jeanette Winterson

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A modern tale written by Jeanette Winterson for the Guardian, Dark Christmas is a truly glorious take on the classic genre.

A woman and her friends abscond to Highfallen House, a Victorian manor house in the countryside, to celebrate Christmas. All sounds super idyllic right? Well, not really. I mean, not to point too fine a point of it, but this group of pals are basically asking to be haunted.

Things go from cute and Christmassy to spooky AF when a creepy old Nativity set is found in the attic.

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'The Turn Of The Screw' — Henry James

Henry James' Christmas time classic was turned into a very successful drama for the BBC back in 2009 which starred Downton Abbey's own Lady Mary, Michelle Dockery.

It's the story of a governess who finds herself in charge of two recently orphaned children in a country house. While working, she sees the ghostly figures of a man and a woman. But are they in her mind? Or are they actually spooky spectres?

Throughout The Turn Of The Screw, the governess desperately tries to protect the children from the figures — with terrifying consequences.

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'Dubliners: The Dead' — James Joyce

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This short story, a part of The Dubliners, isn't technically meant to be a ghost story but there's no denying it's an impossibly spooky tale.

It's set in wintery Dublin of a Christmas night. The final scene in this short story is narrated by the wife of the main character. She tells of her first love and how he died from pneumonia after waiting outside her window during a snowstorm. Joyce's language is haunting AF and paints a picture of how ghosts are far more than just spectral apparitions.

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'Smee' — A.M. Burrage

Smee is a short story in one of A.M. Burrage's collections and it is truly chilling.

A group of young people messing about on Christmas Eve decide to play a game of hide and seek in a spooky house in which a young girl died years before. During the story, as the anticipation builds, the group wonder, is there another person playing alongside them?

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'Ofodile' — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Another of the Guardian's contemporary ghost stories, this one is set in Nigeria and written by the formidable Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. So you know it's got to be good.

A family's life is disrupted by their new neighbours who seem impossibly attractive but creepily eerie. This story features a type of haunting that's very much open to interpretation.

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After reading all these spooky tales, a crowded house will feel an awful lot more enjoyable than it did before. Merry spookmas.

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