Tis the season to be SCARED!
by Tammy Cohen
Forget Halloween, Christmas is the most chilling time of the year – in every sense. For centuries we Brits have treated ourselves to a generous dollop of fear alongside our turkey and sprouts – maybe not surprising when we consider that celebrating Christmas Day on the 25th December owes more to Paganism and the winter solstice than to the Nativity or peak novelty jumper season.
The solstice, when darkness takes over from light, used to be considered the most haunted day of the year, the day when the barrier between living and dead became blurred. That’s why the Victorians loved nothing more than spooking themselves out telling ghost stories around the fire on Christmas Eve. In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, bitter old skinflint Ebenezer Scrouge is haunted by what has been and what might be, while Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw is a story of supernatural goings-on related to guests at a Christmas Eve gathering in a spooky old house.
Nowadays we’re more likely to be gathered around the telly than a fireplace, but we still get that same thrill from allowing ourselves to be scared stiff while all the time feeling safe and warm in the bosom of our families – which is why there’s usually something creepy on the box over Christmas (and I’m not talking about Gregg Wallace).
The world is a scary place. That’s why most of the year we try to look on the bright side. 50 Shades, X Factor, Strictly, I’m a Celebrity – they’re the entertainment equivalent of a comfort blanket that we throw over ourselves when daily life gets too grim. Only at Christmas when we’re truly comfortable and relaxed can we afford to let our guard down – and the terror in.
The fact is there’s something marvellously cathartic about being scared, in the same way as it’s cathartic to laugh or weep (It’s a Wonderful Life for the 999th time? Don’t mind if I do.) And when we’re surrounded by people we love, and lying pleasantly comatose on the sofa stuffed full of mince pies and mulled wine, it’s the perfect time to let ourselves feel the fear.
It’s also a question of balance. Just as we get to a point every Christmas – usually some time between the Queen’s speech and the first emergency trip to get replacement batteries for the electronic toys that have just quit working – where we can’t stomach another, no not even one more, Quality Street or Terry’s Chocolate Orange segment, so when we’ve over-gorged ourselves on sugary sentiment and cute kids with stuffed penguins, our souls start screaming out for a bit of inner torment and good, honest spine-tingling fright.
Christmas is all about downing tools and doing the things we don’t have time for the rest of the year. Monopoly: check! Ridiculously labour-intensive meal that takes hours to prepare and minutes to scoff: check! So it’s the perfect time for thinking about the bigger things in life – the things we love, the things we treasure and the things that scare the bejeezus out of us.
It’s a time of high expectations, but it can also be a time of creeping disappointment when things don’t turn out quite how we’d hoped, casting a shadow over the fairy lights and tinsel and leaving us receptive to the darker things in life.
When my lovely editor at Transworld publishers asked if I fancied writing a Christmas crime book, I instantly knew I didn’t want to write something warm and cosy. I wanted it to be disturbing and a bit twisted with a full-blown psychopath thrown in for good measure.
Because, as it says on the cover of the book, sometimes Christmas really can be murder. And evil often comes gift-wrapped. Mwahhahahaha!