Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Dark Side of Christmas

Christmas hasn't always been a time for peace and joy. In many cultures, the long cold nights which lead to the winter solstice were the perfect time for scaring each other - and their own children in particular - to death.


In Iceland they have Grýla - a giantess from Icelandic folklore. Grýla only appears on Christmas eve. She is a scary, ugly hag, often depicted with ears that dangle down to her shoulders, a beard that is heavily matted and teeth which are black as rocks.

On Christmas Eve she comes down from her cave and kidnaps the children who have been misbehaving all year. Grýla is said to have an insatiable appetite and children are her favourite snack. She takes the children she has abducted back to her cave and cooks them into a stew, which happens to be her favourite dish.


In German-speaking Alpine region, they have Krampus: a horned, anthropomorphic figure. According to traditional narratives, Krampus punishes children during the Christmas season who had misbehaved.

Saint Nicholas and Black Pete

In Holland and Belgium they have Saint Nicholas and his assistant Black Pete. In these politically correct times, Saint Nicholas is a benign old man, and, due to racial sensitivities, Black Pete isn't black anymore, but when I was a child in the 1970's, we were still told that Black Pete would put you in a canvas sack if you had been naughty, take you back to Spain and turn you into a little ginger biscuit which would be fed to the good children the following year.

Telling Ghost Stories at Christmas

In England they had the tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas. Mention the words ‘Christmas ghost story’, and most people will automatically think of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Indeed, it has become the quintessential example of the subgenre. But Dickens wasn’t the only one who was wont to writing seasonal tales of this sort.

The Victorians were generally a macabre bunch and there was a huge flowering of supernatural fiction during the Victorian era. Most of the famous literary names from that period - writers such as Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle , Elizabeth Gaskell and Edith Nesbit - produced such stories, 

So why was scaring children at Christmas so popular in Europe?  Christmas was the time for family gatherings, and in an age before mass media, story telling was the only pastime during the long dark winters. Supernatural tales appealed to both old and young alike, so this was the ideal genre. And no matter how frightening the stories were, the evening’s scares could easily be dispelled by a bright light or the good-natured laughter of the storyteller at the end of the tale. No doubt there was also a moral dimension to the telling of these stories, a way of impressing people that they must lead good, wholesome lives otherwise they would never achieve the peace in death that was the ambition of every Victorian.

(source: Simon Marshall Jones -

Death Takes a Lover

So, if like me, you find the Christmas period a peculiarly fitting time to scare your friends and family to death, and you want to help re-ignite this tradition, then why not buy my book this Christmas. 'Death Takes a Lover' is the chilling tale of a repressed detective trying to solve a gruesome murder in the bleak and wintry Yorkshire moors. Fusing Gothic romanticism and fin-de-siecle melodrama, it is a chilling entry into a world which some may not want to enter, but if you do, don't say you haven't been warned.