Today is the 3rd day of our JFB Christmas celebration and today we are celebrating Božić – Christmas in Serbia!
Serbia has many different Christmas traditions (the Wikipedia page is fascinating!), but one of the most interesting happens two Sunday’s before Christmas. On this day, children tie up their mothers and refuse to release them until they pay a random – in the form of Christmas presents of course! This tradition is called Materice. They repeat this with their fathers a week later, which is called Oci
Our first gift to you today is our (now) traditional giveaway! Today we have a copy of THE HIDDEN PEOPLE by Alison Littlewood for you lucky folks! To win, all you have to do is log in to Facebook or Twitter, ensure you’re following us/you like our page and then share or retweet the post with the link to this blog. You can find them here on Twitter and here on Facebook. Giveaway ends tomorrow (13th December) at 12pm.
Our second gift to you is a wonderful piece, written by Alison Littlewood herself, on the Victorian tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to creeping out my family this year!
The Victorian Tradition of Telling Ghost Stories on Christmas Eve by Alison Littlewood
When it comes to celebrating Christmas, we owe a lot to the Victorians. They invented the Christmas card and crackers, and the move towards mass production made present-giving much more widespread. Prince Albert had a Christmas tree brought to Windsor; now Christmas just isn’t Christmas without one. The Victorians are even credited with the idea of being allowed some well-earned days off work for the festive season.
If there’s one part of the era I’d like to revisit, however, it’s the tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve. What could be finer, when the nights draw in and the fire burns brightly, than to gather a little closer, sip a warming glass of brandy and hear of the terrors outside? After all, what matters most in a ghostly (or ghastly) tale is the atmosphere, which a cold winter’s night has in abundance.
Although associated with the Victorians, the ghost story tradition didn’t begin or end there. As Shakespeare put it in A Winter’s Tale, ‘A sad tale’s best for winter: I have one of sprites . . .’ And it continued into the twentieth century with the famous evenings hosted by M. R. James, that archetypal teller of ghost stories, when he entertained friends with accounts of haunted artefacts that would have much better remained buried.
But the Victorians had a huge appetite for such tales, and indeed for ghosts. One reason given for this is that in a time of industrialisation and rapid change, they were a part of their nostalgia for a vanishing past. Ghost stories, after all, concern what is dead and gone, and the messages they can carry from the past to the present.
I suspect a large part of it is also down to a general loss of enchantment throughout the age. In a time when the foundations of religious belief were shaken by developments in geology and the theory of evolution, people yearned after the spiritual realm. From 1848, when the Fox sisters heard ‘rappings’ that were allegedly communications from beyond the grave, the spiritualist movement was born. People thought that ways could be found to really contact the spirits of the dead, through séances and mediums; perhaps the popularity of the ghost story in some way reflects that longing.
However the tradition came about, in the time of year when the walls between the living and the dead are said to grow thin, I shall be re-reading some of the classics, from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to creepy and curious tales by Sheridan La Fanu, Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins and many others. My favourite ghost story, W. W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw might just make an appearance, though it missed the Victorian period by a year. And even now, I have in front of me Edith Nesbitt’s Man-Size in Marble: ‘Although every word of this story is as true as despair, I do not expect people to believe it.’
I’m lost. I’ll see you on the other side . . .