Fantasy & Gothic Blog

Horror Fiction History | Christmas

Posted by Matteo Middlemiss

Christmas has long been a time for joy and goodwill to all but it has also become popular within horror fiction. In this week’s blog we look at some of the best examples of Christmas horror and discuss why the Yuletide period makes such an interesting excellent device for fiction.

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The place for us to begin when talking about horror at Christmas also happens to be one of the most popular Christmas stories of all time, A Christmas Carol. Centering around four ghosts, the horror aspects of the story are easily seen even though only two of the ghosts are actually scary.

As we hear the chains of Jacob Marley, Ebeneezer Scrooge’s partner, rapping against the stairs, both Scrooge and the reader are quickly terrified. As each ghost makes their visit we see Scrooge terrified at what may come. Confronted by the horror of his previous actions, his current world and the future that awaits him should he continue, Scrooge is scared into changing his ways.

While not always thought of as a horror story, A Christmas Carol contains many of the elements that we see in other horror fiction and depending on the adaptation can be truly terrifying. Whether it’s Marley’s chains clinking around the house before appearing to Scrooge or Ebeneezer grovelling at his own gravestone in front of the ghost of Christmas yet to come, the story is full of moments that easily stand up to other horror fiction. Dickens wrote about 8 Christmas stories but A Christmas Carol remains his most popular by far and it seems it’s the horror elements that distinguishes it. Not only an excellent story telling device, the ghosts add a tone that separates it from what was popular at the time and adds a little fear and tension that make reading or watching the story all the more exciting.

shutterstock_341777981More recently we’ve seen a slew of pulp fiction and horror B movies with Christmas at their core. Not only are seasonal horror stories popular, but Christmas horror offers a way to subvert the traditions and play on what is considered a safe and family oriented holiday, something a little horror can certainly mess up! These films and books are often really fun to watch and read and generally focus on the modern and western traditions of the holiday. The content here can range from the supernatural to the more realistic. We can see evil santas or more protective ones, we’ve seen demonic forces and Gremlins and you can even find serial killers dressed up as Saint Nick himself. The route that links them is often an aspect of black comedy that seeks to make fun of horror at Christmas in a way that Dickens’ story did not

A key figure in this modern horror Christmas has been Krampus. Essentially the opposite of Santa (although evil Santa is also a popular trope of the sub-genre), Krampus is a demon that punishes children who have misbehaved during the year. Krampus chases children with sticks and is know to whip those who have been naughty (although those playing Krampus at fairs and processions across Europe are not known to actively whip children anymore. In some traditions we see Krampus leave sticks in the houses of families as a reminder to children to behave all year.

Krampus may originate from a pre Christian, and therefore pre Christmas tradition, across Europe. This deep history gives writers and filmmakers scope to design a character that fits well into lots of types of stories. Due to this we’ve seen Krampuses in a variety of stories with the most recent high profile version being in 2015’s Krampus. The film follows a family that has lost its Christmas spirit and Krampus is here to punish them for it. Using the character for form rather than for his traditions, the film is an excellent example of how this figure has been used to make a variety of horror storylines due to the mysticism surrounding Krampus.

Christmas can make for some great horror storylines! This Christmas make sure you read some Yuletide terror and take note of what might make for a blood curdling story of your own. We’d love to know of your favourite Christmas horror, so let us know what we should check out!shutterstock_778232203


- The best Christmas Horror films according to Den of Geek.

- Sink your teeth into Snowball by Gregory Bastianelli, the perfect Christmas Horror


Image from disney.fandom.com and Shutterstock.

Topics: Horror Fiction History

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