The tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve dates back to Victorian times and beyond, the greatest example being the ultimate: Charles Dickens’s novella A Christmas Carol, with its ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, and old Marley rattling his chains. But there’s a Pagan note to it all, as well — a whispering in the wintery darkness that makes us crow with delight, even as we are terrified to death. Ghost stories are also convivial storytelling at its best, when told around the fire after gorging on a holiday feast.
History Colorado’s virtual event, Telling Winter's Tales, Speaking of Spirits and Ghosts by Night, to be presented on Christmas Eve via Zoom, harks back to those roots by offering a way to while away the time in the company of others as Christmas proper approaches.
Chris Getzan, the museum’s manager of public programs, has a story of his own as to why he thought a revival of the old custom might be a good idea, especially in a town with a strong Victorian past that lives on in the architecture of old neighborhoods — districts like Capitol Hill, where Getzan first moved in 2003, knowing nobody in a new city.
“I remember spending more than one holiday walking around alone in empty Capitol Hill — sometimes it would be snowing, sometimes it would be 60 degrees,” he recalls. “In a big city, it can be hard to reach out to new people. I knew I was not the only individual in Capitol Hill at that time who felt that way.”
A program of ghost stories, he realized, could bring back a feeling of camaraderie among strangers in a time when even people with big families are feeling lonely, just as it might warm a room in London, more than a hundred years ago. Then he contemporized the idea by inviting a cast of local comedians — Shanel Hughes, Hannah Jones and Ben Bryant — to share their personal ghost stories.
It’s hard to know exactly how it will all play out on Christmas Eve, but Getzan says there will most certainly be some local connections: “Hannah wanted to make something up about the old house she lived in, with a reference to the bodies buried in Cheesman Park,” while Hughes has been thinking about mashing up African-American folk tales and her Nigerian girlfriend’s past into a cross-cultural melange. Getzan will share 45 minutes to an hour of solid thrills, chills (and perhaps some spooky jokes) for an unseen virtual audience in a way that brings everyone together.
“Being apart from people that you love and seeing the way the city is right now, it feels like the right time for something like this,” he explains, adding that he’d love to see it become a Denver-centric History Colorado tradition. Maybe going forward, when these three comics get big, they’ll come back to do it again.
“For folks feeling lonely, this would be a way to feel close to someone in the dark theater,” Getzan notes. “When you see a scary movie and have that feeling of elation about being scared all by yourself — yet you’re also with a hundred other people sitting in the same room — there’s something delicious about it.
“It sounds trite, but I think right now, we need that more than ever.”
Tune in to Telling Winter's Tales, Speaking of Spirits and Ghosts by Night at 7 p.m. Thursday, December 24, from the safety and comfort of your own home; reserve tickets, $5, and register online to receive the Zoom link in advance.
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