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8 Spooky Holiday-Themed Short Stories

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or so we’re told. In truth, the holidays can be a frightful time. And this year is especially dreadful. If you’re like me and tend towards the melancholy and spooky, then you’re practically allergic to a lot of trademarks of Christmastime. Caroling, tinsel, lights—they just don’t do it for me. I like my holidays tinged with strange tidings, which is why I’m a particular fan of horror-themed Christmas content. That’s why this year, I’m sharing with you a list of some of the spookiest holiday-set short stories I could find. These eight tales turn the holidays on their head, will have you peeking around corners, and will hopefully distract you from real-world horrors. Because Christmas is always better with ghosts.

The cover of A Christmas Carol from Penguin Books.BBC

“Dark Christmas” by Jeanette Winterson

Back in 2013, Guardian Weekend magazine published a series of chilling original ghost stories set around Christmastime. A number of those stories appear on this list, the first being this spooky tale from Jeanette Winterson. “We had borrowed the house from a friend none of us seemed to know,” the story begins. It follows a narrator, who stay at a remote home during the holidays—but not your typical house. It’s got all the makings of a haunted house, including an incomplete Nativity. Because that’s not ominous at all.

Read it here.

“Ofodile” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This story from Americanah author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie also appeared in Guardian Weekend in 2013. It’s set at a house in Nigeria, where the narrator’s younger brother—the titular Ofodile—is kept locked away in his room. He continuously screams and cries, and his parents struggle to care for him. Full of twists and turns, this gripping “ghost story” will have you hooked. That’s mostly thanks to Adichie’s gorgeous prose and stunning way with words.

Read it here.

Gif of a weird key.Giphy

“Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” by M.R. James

M.R. James is a master horror writer, and this 1904 ghost stories is one of his best creations. It follows a Cambridge professor on holiday in the town of Burnstow. While exploring some Templar ruins, he comes across an old bronze whistle. That night, he blows the whistle and experiences visions, among other supernatural occurrences. The frightening, ghostly tale is a popular one; it’s been adapted many times for radio and television.

Read it here.

“Repossession” by Lionel Shriver

We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of the more disturbing novels there is, so leave it to the book’s author—Lionel Shriver—to deliver a truly chilling holiday story. “Repossession” follows a woman who purchases the home where she grew up, only to be harassed by a ghostly presence that lives there. The house in question certainly isn’t a home, and Shriver’s meticulous use of language is spellbinding and frightening all at once.

Read it here.

Gif of a haunted castleGiphy

“The Old Nurse’s Story” by Elizabeth Gaskell

This 1852 short story from Elizabeth Gaskell is told from the perspective of Hester, an elderly woman who tells a tale from when she was 17. Back then, she cared for a young orphaned girl, and lived in the girl’s haunted family home. Cue a haunted organ, ghostly apparitions, and other hallmarks of a Gothic ghost story. It’s all set during the wintry holidays, too—making it extra creepy. Dickens himself was a noted fan of this tale.

Read it here.

“The Kit-Bag” by Algernon Blackwood

This ghost story from British writer Algernon Blackwood was first published in 1908. It’s set in London, just before Christmas, and follows a protagonist named Johnson who works for a respected lawyer. The lawyer represents a man accused of murdering a woman, and Johnson is there for the unpleasant trial. After the trial, he looks forward to vacationing in the Alps, and requests that the lawyer lend him the titular “kit-bag” (which is really just another word for a duffel bag). But the arrival of this seemingly innocuous bag unleashes a night for terror for poor Johnson. The story is one of intense atmosphere and dread, and has some truly excellent horror imagery.

Read it here.

gif of a caped ghost.Giphy

“Smee” by A.M. Burrage

This spooky story is set on Christmas Eve. A boy, Tony, tells the frightening tale of a game called “Smee,” which is similar to hide-and-seek. Only he had a truly terrifying experience with the game—because a ghost joined in. Reading this one really puts you in the mindset of the game, which makes it all the more palpable. It’s more of a creeping, dreadful story than one that beats you over the head. And it’s those subtle scares that really linger.

Read it here.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

This one is a bit of a cheat, as it’s a novella and not technically a short story. But it’s the granddaddy of all spooky Christmas horror tales, and it is quite a short and easy read. We all know the story: Ebenezer Scrooge, the grumpy old man who is visited by three Christmas ghosts (Past, Present, and Yet to Come) who attempt to transform him into a kinder, more caring man and employer. Many of us read A Christmas Carol in school, but if you haven’t checked it out in a while, it’s well worth a revisit. The language is haunting and beautifully written in that perfectly Dickensian way.

Read it here.