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Photo by Brittanie Loren Pendleton on flickr, used under Creative Commons.

Billings Estate continues a very old (and spooky) Christmas tradition

By Kabriya Coghlan on December 15, 2015

Christmas is filled with different traditions for everyone, whether that means hanging stockings and decorating a tree or simply coming together with all of your loved ones for the day.

This year, the Billings Estate National Historic Site will be gathering people together for a rather unique tradition:

A Christmas séance.

The event will take place at the estate on Friday, December 18. It is intended to be an authentic and intimate séance, with attendance limited to only 15 people. Tickets have already sold out, although the museum says they will continue hosting séances in the new year.

But traditionally, the Christmas season has been a special time for this kind of event, dating back to the Victorian era. The holidays were when families all came together and séances were considered a way to reconnect with loved ones who had passed away.

 Apartment613 spoke with Jayna Hart from the City of Ottawa’s Cultural and Heritage Services to understand more about this week’s Christmas séance.

“We hope that visitors will learn about the traditions of the séance, engage in the experience, and feel connected to their past,” Hart said.

Attendance is kept small so that the séance can still be a personal experience for everyone involved.

“Participants seem to be able to take some comfort in participating in a séance with other people around, as opposed to one-on-one in a psychic’s parlour,” Hart said. “It can at times be emotional and surprise (them). It is worth approaching with an open mind… Our psychic reaches out to any spirits present which often come in with the participants themselves.”

The Billings Estate museum has hosted Christmas séances previously, as well as other sessions throughout the year. They host a Halloween séance annually.

“People are interested in exploring traditions,” Hart said. “The idea of exploring spiritualism and ghost stories is an ancient tradition, but it was particularly popular in the Victorian era.”

Charles Dickens helped to make the Spiritualist movement popular when he wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843, Hart explained. This also established a link between spiritualism and the Christmas season.

“It was here at the beginning of the Victorian era that the conditions for the Christmas séance were set,” Hart said. “Unlike Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge, participants actually wanted to speak with spirits.”

Many of the Christmas traditions we still follow – giving to charity, exchanging cards, decorating – all come from the Victorian era, Hart explained.

So when you’re decorating your tree this holiday season, maybe you’ll be able to sense your own ghosts of Christmas Past.

Visit the Billings Estate’s website or Facebook page for more information on their events.