What better time to gather around the fire and tell ghost stories than a cold, dark winter’s night? Oral storytelling has long been a seasonal tradition though it exploded into popularity in the 19th century. Industrialization and the proliferation of print media saw holiday ghost stories take written form and become commonly available.
Charles Dickens’s popular A Christmas Carol was published in 1843, during a time when Christmas traditions were being revived in Victorian England. Other authors followed suit, publishing their own seasonal ghost stories. It was common to find such spectral tales in Christmas issues of newspapers and magazines; families would read these stories to each other on the holiday. Henry James’s famous 1898 horror novella, The Turn of the Screw, begins with a group sitting around a fire to tell stories on Christmas Eve.
In the 20th century, telling ghost stories ultimately became more closely associated with Halloween and the trend of reading such tales during Christmas faded from popularity. This has not, however, stopped authors from utilizing the inherent spookiness of the wintertime holiday as fertile ground for the weaving of stories. The following is a list of Christmas horror novels, novellas, and anthologies—something to please everyone this holiday season!
Return of the Living Elves
From the author of Man, Fuck This House comes a horror novella about an elfish zombie apocalypse that will keep you turning the page. The story opens on Christmas Eve with a 19-year-old Juggalo starting a new job at a holiday supply warehouse. He wants to impress his Christpunk girlfriend, Landfill, who is super into Christmas. An incident with a snow globe unleashes a saucy undead elf and blood-soaked mayhem ensues. Hysterical prose and fully realized characters make for an enthralling tale of Christmas supply warehousing, Clausian hegemony, and BDSM reindeer gone wrong (or maybe right?). Unwrapping the ghastly yuletide wrath of a zombified nightmare has never been more fun in this masterwork of Christmas horror comedy.
The book also includes a fantastic bonus story by Shelly Lyons, “The Murderous Eejit.”
Lucky Girl, How I Became A Horror Writer, A Krampus Tale
Rickert’s holiday horror novella spans multiple Christmases, distilling a complex story into a spare and intense tale. Ro is a struggling horror writer who spends Christmas Eve with four strangers. The group tells each other ghost stories and the resulting tales, especially a creepy one about Krampus, reveal the horrors of Ro’s past and change the course of her future. Lyrical prose evokes a sense of unreality and mounting dread. Lucky Girl delivers as a multi-layered page-turner of creepy Christmastime horror.
Nola is a screenwriter of telenovelas working on a script involving funeral scenes when she meets the handsome new town mortician, Henry, during Las Posadas. She quickly recognizes the chemistry between them. Henry invites her to join his regular puzzle club gatherings and the situation heats up on Christmas. A sexy encounter with a coffin ensues. This hot holiday tale devolves into bloody goodness and mayhem with the arrival of an unexpected guest.
This multi-author holiday horror collection features stories that riff on cheesy Hallmark movies. The mysterious handsome man. The unexpected puppy. The magical Santa Claus. All with a blood-soaked twist. (Full disclosure, I have a story in the collection.) The wide range of grisly yuletide delights also includes “A Total Super Miracle on 34th Street” by Mackenzie Kiera, “The Morbs” by Greg Sisco, “Holiday Traditions” by Cynthia Pelayo, “Mother and Child” by Todd Robinson, “The Bone Fire” by Alan Baxter, “The Hatching” by Brian Keene, and more!
Dead of Winter
This thrilling collection of seven winter horror stories is the steaming mug of literary hot chocolate you need for the holiday season. Several stories focus on Christmas though all are blanketed in snowy, wintertime terror. “Doomsday Father Christmas” is about a depressed Santa Claus. “Visitation Rights” focuses on a father desperately trying to reconnect with his daughters on Christmas Eve. “Snowmen” is about a child who sees figures appear on a snowy lawn. Cleverly crafted, twisty plots and sharp prose evoke a constant sense of dread, making for an entertaining yuletide read.
Hark! The Herald Angels Scream
This collection of horror stories by multiple authors features a range of chilling holiday tales. The anthology’s many highlights include the terrifying opener, “Absinthe & Angels,” by Kelly Armstrong, “Snake’s Tail” by Sarah Langan, “Tenets” by Josh Malerman, “Fresh as the New-Fallen Snow” by Seanan McGuire, “The Second Floor of the Christmas Hotel,” by Joe R. Lansdale, as well as stories by Tim Lebbon, Elizabeth Hand, Jonathan Maberry, and more.
This horror-comedy novel is set in the 1980s when horror paperbacks were selling like hotcakes. Luci works in publishing and has been tasked with finding the next Stephen King. Her co-workers subject her to mean pranks and the annual Secret Santa gift exchange goes awry when she receives an anonymous gift that proves to be a cursed object. Bodies start piling up in this horror whodunit told with sharp, witty prose.
Krampus the Ule Lord
Brom weaves an intricate Christmas-Krampus story with clever ties to Norse Mythology. Set in West Virginia, the novel focuses on a failed musician, Jesse, who, through a twist of yuletide fate, gets caught in a nightmarish rivalry between Krampus and Santa Claus—fighting over Santa’s missing, magic sack. The devilish Krampus is as charismatic as he is evil, and a truly entertaining centerpiece. Brom’s original illustrations are included.
Where the Dead Go to Die
It’s Christmas in Chicago where Emily works in a hospice facility for people who’ve been infected with a slow-moving zombie virus. The infected are made comfortable and humanely killed before they can develop a rabid taste for human bones and marrow. A mob of protestors gathers outside the facility. Told with heart-wrenching realism, this story offers an emotional and fresh take on zombie horror—delivered at Christmastime.
Season’s Creepings, Tales of Holiday Horror
This collection of creepy Christmas horror stories reveals the darkness of the holiday. Kelly’s imaginative work includes a wide range of styles, characters, and tones in such stories as “Jingle Bones,” The Skating Pond,” “Heirlooms,” and “Then Came a Woodsman.” Season’s Creepings is sure to delight horror fans of all kinds this holiday season. Kelly also has a Halloween-themed collection, The Halloween Store and Other Tales of All Hallows’ Eve.
The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories
This five-volume series collects Christmas ghost stories that were originally published in newspapers and magazines in the 1800s and early 1900s. While telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve has largely fallen out of fashion, these chilling tales are sure to revive the tradition and please those in need of a wintery fright. The volumes feature well-known authors like Margaret Oliphant and Arthur Conan Doyle as well as tales by lesser-known and anonymous authors, offering up a ghostly holiday treat.