story time

What is Christmas Eve without a good ghost story?

Here are five you can start with.

Henry James’s classic tale of horror and possession, The Turn of the Screw, is about the telling of a ghost story as much as it is about ghosts.

  The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as, on Christmas Eve in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to say that it was the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child.  

The story has the quality of an incantation, holding listeners spellbound as long as it lasts. Such is its power that when it ends no ordinary conversation is possible for a while. Winter claws at the edges of this enchanted circle, warded off for a while by the pool of light cast by the Christmas fire.

Winters in Victorian England tended to be a nature red in tooth and claw sort of business - snowy and cold and no central heating. As chilly Victorians huddled close around the fire on Christmas, they told themselves tales of the uncanny and the supernatural, of beings who may well have been birthed by the howling winter world.

Telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve is believed to be a tradition that goes back several hundred years. But it seems to have been revived by Charles Dickens and The Christmas Carol, published in 1843, when the Victorian age was still young. “There is probably a smell of roasted chesnuts and other good comfortable things all the time, for we are telling Winter Stories,” writes Dickens in Telling Winter Stories.

But there may nothing good or comfortable about this winter ritual, which takes listeners to lands untouched by Christmas cheer. These stories dwell in churchyards and old manor houses and cliffs battered by a noiseless sea. The ritual touches on something ancient, something primeval at the heart of the Christmas mystery. It recalls the “yuletide” that is “older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind,” as HP Lovecraft put it.

Now the Christmas fires are dying out. Certainly, those celebrating in India will not light them. But there is no reason the stories should be forgotten. Here are five that you could curl up with this Christmas Eve:

The Mezzotint (1904): Perhaps it is right to start with MR James, master of the Victorian ghost story and a medieval scholar with an interest in antiquaries. Very often in his tales, ancient objects glower with unknown secrets and properties, which must be unlocked by the wandering historian or some other species of scholar.

In this story, an art collector for a museum buys a bland mezzotint of a manor house for a song. Only to find that the picture may contain more than meets the eye.

Man-Sized in Marble (1893): Did you think of E Nesbit as a writer of sweet stories for children, spinner of yarns about love and courage triumphing poverty? Think again.

When a writer begins with “Although every word of this story is as true as despair,” you know things cannot end well.

A newly married couple settle down in a charming cottage in a little village on a hill. Only trouble is, the cottage is very the village church. And in the church there are “two bodies, drawed out man-size in marble”.

Smee by AM Burrage (1931): Not quite Victorian but in the firmly in tradition of telling a story to go with the egg-nog. Beware what games you play on Christmas Eve. For you could end up playing “Smee”.

One person hides and others look for them in the dark. When you find the hider, they say “it’s me”, shortened to “smee”, a word that sounds like the beginning of a scream. What if there are more players than you know in this game?

The Face (1928): EF Benson brings you face to face with horror. Not for him the power of suggestion, the terror of what lurks in the shadows. In sinuous, visual prose, he will paint the moment of confrontation for you.

In “The Face”, a woman keeps dreaming of walking on a cliff edge next to a church. The landscape evolves as she ages. The waters eat away at the cliff edge, until they tear at the church. And the walker draws closer to someone waiting at the end of her journey.

The Festival (1925): With HP Lovecraft, we may be straining at the bounds of the traditional Christmas ghost story. But don’t worry, nobody dies, we think.

Lovecraft loved Benson. And he loved snarling, tentacled, ebullient horror. In this story he explores that yuletide which is older than Babylon and Bethlehem. It is Christmas and a traveller arrives at the old fishing town where his ancestors once lived. As darkness falls, the inhabitants of this village celebrate a festival. But it is not the one where you deck the halls with boughs of holly.

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We asked them and here's the verdict: Scotch is one of the #GiftsMenLove

A handy guide to buying a gift for a guy.

Valentine’s day is around the corner so men and women everywhere are racking their brains for the perfect present. Buying a gift for men though can be a stressful experience. Be it a birthday, celebration or personal milestone, many men and women find it difficult to figure out what their male friends or significant others want. That’s why TVF decided to perform a public service and ask the guys directly what they loved. So, the next time you’re running around to buy a gift for a man, just pick something from the list below and thank us later.

Watches: A watch can complete a man’s ensemble and quickly become a talking (or bragging) point at a party. If your man loves classics, a vintage HMT (if you can find one) with a metal strap should be your brand of choice. For fun-loving guys, try a Swatch watch with a pop-coloured leather strap or even a watch with Swarovski crystal studded dials from a variety of watchmakers. Fossil’s unconventional dials will delight a creative or artistic soul. Alternatively, the G-shock collection by Casio is reasonably priced, waterproof and perfect for those who love adventure sports. If your man is a fitness enthusiast, surprise him with an excellent fitness band from GoQii.

Image Credits: Pexels
Image Credits: Pexels

Whisky: A well stocked bar is every man’s pride and joy. Whisky, especially scotch is an extremely popular gift with men. It is a gift that can be displayed with pride and shared on occasions with friends and family. Scotch is any whisky (single malt or blended) that comes from Scotland, is usually aged for at least three years (often more) and distilled twice. Each region in Scotland produces whisky with a distinct flavor. Spirits from Islay, like Laphroaig, tend to have a strong peat flavor while single malts from Speyside tend to be lighter and sweeter. Connoisseurs will sing praises of the golden colour of blends like Johnny Walker or Black and White, and the smoky taste of Scotch whiskies like Black Dog. If your partner is truly mad about malts, go the whole hog and surprise him with a malt tour in Scotland - the ultimate whisky experience.

Image Credit: Pexels
Image Credit: Pexels

Jackets: For a more personal touch, a jacket can be quite an apt gift. A romantic-at-heart will love a traditional bandhgala while bike enthusiasts swear by their weather-worn leather jackets. Blazers are great day-to-night apparel, looking perfectly at home in the office or in a bar. You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to brands and designers: high street labels like Blackberry’s and Zara offer trendy outerwear at affordable prices. Custom made jackets like the ones from Raymond’s Made-To-Measure collection or the Bombay Shirt Company are also a great option, if you really want to get creative with the design.

Sunglasses: If your friend is a globetrotter, a smart pair of shades will delight him like nothing else. Whether he is sunbathing in the Maldives, chasing zebras in Tanzania or skiing in Courchevel, this travel accessory adds an instant glam quotient to almost every type of holiday. Recent sunglass trends have been a major throwback to retro shapes inspired from Hollywood films like Tom Cruise’s aviators from Top Gun, Steve McQueen’s Persols from The Thomas Crown Affair or the wayfarers sported by the lead actors in The Blues Brothers. You’ll find many variations at high street brands like H&M and Diesel but if you can stretch the budget, pick up a good quality pair from Burberry or Louis Vuitton. Better yet, buy a unisex design that you can borrow when your heart desires!

Image Credits: Pexels
Image Credits: Pexels

Headphones: Most guys love their music, whether their choice of genre is soft rock, hard metal or folk fusion. So, it makes sense that headphones are on the list of the most popular gifts loved by men. Make sure you know what you’re looking for when it comes to buying headphones. For style combined with comfort, Skull Candy headphones come in a fun palette of colours. For amazing sound quality and pumping bass, you can opt for Shure or Sennheiser; they may look basic but deliver on their audio capabilities. Audio-Technica headphones are also gaining a cult following among audiophiles for their excellent sound clarity. If your man listens to music while working out, get the Jabra Sports in-ear headphones which are made for the gym. Though it feels pragmatic, this gift will be treasured by all music lovers.

So, take a pick from this list and the guy you gift will be indebted to you for life! For more great gifting ideas, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of LiveInStyle and not by the Scroll editorial team.