December 25th is internationally marketed as a day of cheer, togetherness, and bright lights during one of the darkest nights of the year. But, there are those of us who want to indulge in that darkness. There is a wealth of terror to be found in winter nights, and the following stories are perfect fodder for that breed of dread. Curl up by the fire, turn the lights off, and read... if you dare.
"The Wendigo" by Algernon Blackwood: A group of hunters in snowbound Montana encounter a windy, wintry forest spirit in one of Algernon Blackwood’s scariest tales. By taking an ancient, metaphorical legend and bringing it face-to-face with research and authentic characters, Blackwood forms an account of elemental terror that freezes the soul. Nothing is creepier—or more fun—on a windy December night.
"The Yattering and Jack" by Clive Barker: A family, tormented by a demon hell-bent on claiming the patriarch’s soul, overcomes evil with holiday cheer. Through Barker’s genius imagination, this story becomes a hilariously disturbing satire on Christmas clichés and suburban mundanity. It’s gross, it’s weird, and it’s hellishly festive.
"The Premonition" by Joyce Carol Oates: "Imagine paying a visit to your sadistic brother’s family during the holidays, on the strange instinct that something is wrong, only to find that he isn’t home. His wife and daughters are there, though, along with a few items of luggage that they won’t let you go near. Unsettling? In Oates’ prose, it certainly is; and it's pretty badass, too.
"Miriam" by Truman Capote: Creepy kids are nothing new in horror. But what about the ones that follow you home and refuse to leave? And when they finally disappear, your house feels so empty that you actually might want them to come back? From the author who crafted one of the most heartwarming seasonal tales (“A Christmas Memory”) comes a look at loneliness that feels terribly truthful, all set during a frigid New York winter.
"The Company of Wolves" and "The Tiger's Bride" by Angela Carter: Christmas is full of its own fairy tales, so what better way to celebrate than with a taste of Angela Carter’s subverted fables? I suggest her versions of "Little Red Riding Hood" and Beauty and the Beast because they each capture a perfectly frostbitten atmosphere—the former in the woods of Russia, the latter in an icy Italian castle. At turns freezing, dangerous, chilling, and sexy, these stories are the perfect fireside company.
"Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad" by M.R. James: As discussed in the previous Tomes, you can’t have Christmas without a good old-fashioned ghost story. Here’s one from the king of the tradition, a delightfully creepy yarn about a curious man who summons… something with a whistle. A magnificent example of the ghost story’s power to slowly build suspense and, in the end, ruin everyday objects such as bed sheets.
"The Last Feast of Harlequin" by Thomas Ligotti: This tale has everything you need for Christmas: winter greenery, festive small towns, solstice rituals, and monstrous shape-shifting clowns! Thomas Ligotti’s homage to Lovecraft is a chilling meditation on winter holidays and their origins—in the furthest regions of Hell. Holiday parades will never look the same, and you’ll think twice about where our traditions come from.
Did I miss one? Leave a note and share your favorite Yuletide horror story!