It’s that time of year again when the world is hushed in a blanket of snow; multi-coloured lights illuminate your walk home in the evening and spirits of the undead return to haunt the living. Yes I’m talking about Christmas time. Sitting around telling scary ghost stories may seem at odds with other seasonal traditions, but really they’re as much a part of the Christmas festivities as stockings hung by the fire and eggnog in your glass (and frankly I’ll take the undead over that monstrous yellow concoction any day).
The most famous example of a Christmastime ghost story is, of course, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. With everybody from the Muppets to Bill Murray starring in adaptations of the Victorian tale the ghostly presence of Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas’ past, present and future have become as synonymous with the season as Santa Claus and Boxing Day sales. And then of course we have new holiday favourites taking their cue from the Victorian classics – films like A Nightmare Before Christmas that blend that warm fuzzy feeling with just a soupçon of the macabre.
It’s in the spirit (pun intended or not, as you wish) of this magical combination that the Haunted Walk presents this month’s special tour: The Haunted Walk’s Nightmare Before/After Christmas.
As you can imagine, The Haunted Walk was experiencing a bit of a lull once December rolled around – apparently people aren’t really in a spook-me mood once ‘Jingle Bells’ hits the airwaves. When asked about the inspiration for the Nightmare Before/After Christmas special tours guide Fraser Mackay explains:
“Once you start hitting December everybody starts thinking about Christmas….so it’s obviously a very topical theme for us to explore…[and] the fact that Christmas falls at the time of the winter solstice, the longest, darkest night of the year – it’s a perfect time to sit around a campfire or a hearth and spook each other with some good ghost stories. So we wanted to try and capture a little of that atmosphere. “
Capturing that atmosphere meant a search for tales to tell that were intriguing, memorable and also appropriate to the storytelling, guide-interpreted-and-delivered talks that are the signature of the Walk experience.
“What we found are some great Christmas themed ghost stories from across Canada, not just located in Ottawa. They’re true stories as much as possible that we’ve researched. We also have stories that are perhaps not directly Christmas related but certainly are more of a winter theme than our usual variety. … What a lot of people don’t realize is that Dickens wrote a variety of Christmas stories, of which A Christmas Carol is simply the best known. So we included one of his earlier ones. Not only is it a good story in its own right but you can see inklings of where the characters and plot for A Christmas Carol would eventually come from.”
Now I’ve always loved ghost stories. As much as they’ve lead to many a sleepless night and paranoid squinting into the darkness from the safety of my bed, there’s something delicious about being scared. Barring those children who’ve experienced terror at the sight of mall Santas, any activity designed to elicit fear during this season of exuberant joy might seem incongruous with the overall festive atmosphere. But the success of these tours in the past seems to say something fundamental about peoples’ attraction to the supernatural.
“I think it’s because it’s something that remains unknown, it’s not something that’s been proven. I mean ask three different people if they believe in ghosts and you’ll probably get three different answers…I think it’s that element of the unknown that really grabs people’s attention and for us, not only do you have the stories where you don’t really know what might be happening but they also introduce a lot of interesting local history as well.”
Keeping with the theme of interesting local history, the tours will be held at the Bytowne Museum. Originally built as the Commissariat during construction of the Rideau Canal, the Bytowne’s building is one of the oldest stone structures still standing in downtown Ottawa. No surprise then that it currently has the proud reputation of not only displaying Ottawa’s history but some of history’s ghosts as well.
“The Bytowne is one of the most haunted buildings in Ottawa. In fact one of the stories that we will be sharing is an experience that happened to one of ours guides, and the founder of Haunted Walk, some years ago when they were in the museum late at night. We always talk about the Bytowne but the chance to go inside and tell stories is a real treat. You get to hear ghost stories inside a genuinely haunted building and get a look at some of the artifacts they have on display as well. “
This year’s Haunted Walk Nightmare Before/After Christmas tours will be held at the Bytowne museum December 13th, 20th and 27th 2014. You can get tickets online by visiting the Haunted Tours website. While most of the tour will be taking place indoors be sure to bundle up as portions of the evening will be taking place outside. This is a family-friendly event so take a break from hosting, bundle up the young and young and heart and delight in tales from ghosts of Christmas’ past.