Keep Your Holidays Spooky with These 10 Christmas Ghost Stories that Happened to Real People
Updated: Mar 2, 2021
If you're anything like me and the holidays meant forcing your cousins to play the Ouija board or have their tarot cards read, you'll probably enjoy these real-life Christmas paranormal encounters. The last tale is a story of my own.
Amanda Paulson / Prettyfnspooky
Christmas hasn't always been so merry and bright.
Before Christians claimed the holiday, Pagans had a festival they called Yuletide with traditions that sound suspiciously familiar. Using Pagan symbols like mistletoe, holly berries and wreaths, they celebrated Yule, their name for the winter solstice, every December 25th. For Pagans, Yuletide symbolized the death of light and was considered the most haunted night of the year, when the veil between the living and dead is at its thinnest. In Victorian times, telling ghost stories and sending darkly humorous cards were once an integral part of Yuletide tradition. Magazines regularly ran ghost stories in their Christmas issues and in 1843, Charles Dickens released "A Ghost Story of Christmas" about Ebenezer Scrooge and the four phantoms who visited him on Christmas night. An instant holiday classic, Dickens later renamed it "A Christmas Carol."
Keeping with the tradition of a #creepychristmas read on for 10 ghost holiday ghost stories...
Photosurish / Flickr
The Figure in the Recliner
My mother, to whom I was very close, passed away in 1964 when I was 17 years old. I left home that year and moved to Ontario from Nova Scotia. In 1969 I met a girl whom I will call Karen and we got married in March of 1970. In December of 1971 we were expecting our first child. We were living in a small 1-1/2 bedroom bungalow. There was a fireplace in the living room. My wife and I loved the fireplace and we had it lit every night.
It was Christmas Eve, 1971, and we had just finished putting the gifts under the tree and a nice fire gave off a beautiful glow. On the tree, one string of lights, which was supposed to flash, had stopped several days before. It was five minutes to midnight when the fireplace suddenly just about went out, and the string of lights started to flash -- and the other lights stopped flashing! My wife and I were sitting on the floor and it had become very chilly in the room. I looked over to my Lazyboy chair -- and a figure was sitting there -- my mother with a big beautiful smile on her face! My wife, who had never met my mother, said she could see the same thing. This "ghost" never spoke, but just kept looking at me and my wife and smiling. At 12 midnight, the fire in the fireplace started up again and the lights on the tree stopped flashing and the others started flashing again. I looked over in the chair and the ghost was gone. No matter what I did to those Christmas lights, they never flashed again.
- Arthur H.
© Cody Loves Horror
The Mistletoe Bride
In the early 17th century, a young woman named Anne was to be married on Christmas Day at Bramshill House in Hampshire, England. After the ceremony and feast, as was tradition at the time, the guests were all set to carry the bride to the bedchamber. Anne suggested a game be played, and asked for a five-minute head start before the guests came to find her. Everyone searched long and hard for Anne, but no sign of her could be found. At first they thought she had played a merry trick, but soon a sense of unease fell over the guests. The bridegroom, Lord Lovell, was distraught, and guests began to whisper that she must have fled. Days, weeks, months, and years passed, and Lord Lovell never stopped looking for his bride. One day, some 50 years after her disappearance, Lord Lovell was up in the huge attic of the sprawling mansion, where he began tapping on the oak panelling. As he knocked, a long-hidden secret door sprung open, and inside he found an ornate wooden chest. He pried open the heavy wooden lid, and there, still in her wedding dress and clutching her mistletoe bouquet, were the skeletal remains of his beloved. The scratch marks on the inside of the lid of the chest attested to her desperate, but futile, effort to free herself from her hiding space.
-Claire Cock Starkey
Bramshill House pictured in 2019 when it went on the market for £10m:
White Figure in the Hall
My parents and I lived in a small home that was around 90 years old. The year would have been 1996. We lived there from the time I was seven years old to the time I was 19. From the very day that we moved in, I felt that I was not alone. One year around Christmas time, I was having a friend spend the night. The heat had just shut off briefly and she and I were sitting in the living room watching television when the temperature dropped substantially. As I rose to turn up the heat, the Christmas tree began to shake violently. Ornaments were falling off right and left and she and I were terrified! We ran upstairs and lay down on my bed. My white cat curled up with us and my door was open slightly. When I gazed out at the dark hallway, I was horrified to see a tall white figure run down the hall. I turned to my friend and she acknowledged that she had seen the exact same thing. She never spent the night ever again.
- Caitlin Williams
Patrice Deramaix / Flickr
Haunted Hotel Comes Alive at Christmas
The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, was built in 1886 and is rumored to harbor numerous ghosts, who seem to be especially playful during the holidays. One Christmas, the staff came down to set up the dining room only to find the Christmas tree had been moved from one side of the room to the other. Another year, all the menus in the dining room had been scattered around the room. Other visitors have reported seeing groups of ghostly dancers clad in Victorian-era clothing, whirling around the deserted dance floor.
-Claire Cock Starkey
The haunted Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas circa 1886:
A Christmas Visitor
I had an unusual visitor on Christmas Day, 2008 and I'm pretty sure it wasn't Santa Claus passing by my house in Bloomington, Indiana. The day started in typical fashion with the opening of gifts around the Christmas tree. I served an early Christmas dinner for family and friends, and everybody departed by 5 p.m., except my sister and brother-in-law who live with me. They were sleeping in a bedroom at the end of the hall with the door open. I went into my bedroom with my dog, Toby, and shut the door securely. I was just dozing off when I heard the latch on my bedroom door open. I waited several seconds for my sister or brother-in-law to ask me whatever they came to say, but there was no other sound. It was almost 7 p.m., so my bedroom was pitch black. I had left lights on in the kitchen and the bathroom, and there were lots of Christmas lights in the living room, so the hallway would have been well lit. I would be able to see whoever was at the door just by lifting my head.
I pushed the blankets down and lifted my head from the pillow, but just as I would have been able to see who was in the doorway, an extremely bright light hit me right in the eyes. I shielded my eyes and yelled, "Turn out that @#%$ light! You're blinding me!" The light immediately disappeared and I heard the bedroom door latch closed. My bedside light is a touch lamp, so I tapped it on and looked around the bedroom. There was no one in the bedroom except me and Toby. Toby jumped off the bed and went to the door without showing any signs of alarm. At first I wasn't frightened because Toby is a Dutch shepherd -- well trained to be an excellent watchdog and proven personal protection dog.Since Toby was already up, I decided to go let him outside and see what Sis or brother-in-law needed. When I went into the hallway, I could see both of them still in bed. I took Toby to the living room to let him outside, and there was nobody there either. So who opened my bedroom door and turned a spotlight on my face?
Like most people, the thoughts of loved ones are always close at hand during the holiday season. When I first went to lie down, I was thinking how happy I was that my small family had enjoyed a pleasant Christmas, but it would have been so much better if my mother and brother had still been alive to share it with us. I would like to think it was my brother's spirit stopping by to say "Merry Christmas. I still think of you, too." I haven't been able to debunk this strange event or find any kind of rational explanation. I'm half afraid that my heart stopped during my sleep and the light I saw was the bright light people report after near-death experiences. Leave it to me to see the Stairway to Heaven and ruin my chance at eternal paradise by saying "Turn out that #$%@ light!" I've made a mental note that if I ever see another bright light to clean up my language ... just in case.
Photosurish / Flickr
Christmas Apparition at Alcatraz
The island of Alcatraz, off the coast of San Francisco, has a long and spooky history. In its earlier days, Native Americans allegedly used to banish miscreants to the island as punishment, where they were reportedly plagued by the local spirits. Alcatraz, of course, became a notorious federal prison in 1934, housing criminals such as Al Capone before it was shut down in 1963. Today, visitors to the island report hearing screams, the clanging of metal doors, and the sound of voices within the walls. One of the more famous tales associated with the island supposedly occurred in the 1940s, when warden James Johnston held a Christmas Day party at his residence for the staff at the prison. The good cheer is said to have been brought to a swift halt when an apparition sporting mutton-chop whiskers and a gray suit appeared. The temperature in the room plummeted and the fire blew out, before returning to normal when the spirit disappeared about a minute later. The rattled guards were too scared to stay in the residence, and the rest of the Christmas celebration ended abruptly.
-Claire Cock Starkey
POPPYboywang / istockphoto
A Holiday Farewell
The year was 1982 and my four sisters and I were preparing a traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner. Our parents were not with us that year. They had to make a last minute trip down to Florida to take our Aunt Gertie, with whom we were all very close, off of life support. The table was set and we had almost finished cooking. Aunt Gertie had been the subject of our conversation then as she had been for most of the day. Suddenly, we heard a crashing sound and realized in horror that it was the sound of a fully set dining table, crystal and all, collapsing to the ground. As I turned towards the noise, I saw the grandfather clock that sat in our dining room strike 5:00 pm. Miraculously, not a single thing on our Christmas dinner table was broken and all of it was fragile. About halfway through dinner, our telephone rang and my sister, Margaret, got up to answer it. It was our parents, calling to let us know they were back at their hotel having dinner. When my parents arrived home the following day, I saw a folder sticking out of my mother's purse with the hospital insignia imprinted on the front. Curious, I opened it and inside I found my aunt Gertie's death certificate. The certificate was dated December 24, 1982 and it had a time of death listed as 5:00 pm. Our dining room table had crashed to the ground at exactly the time of Aunt Gertie's death.
© Cody Loves Horror
Headless Anne Boleyn at Hever Castle in Kent, England
Anne Boleyn is notorious as the second of King Henry VIII’s ill-fated wives. To marry Anne, Henry spent years seeking a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and went on to sever England’s relationship with the Catholic Church in Rome, forever changing the course of British history. Despite the lengths he went to ensnare her, Henry soon grew tired of Anne and, choosing to believe the idle gossip surrounding her, had her beheaded in 1536. A number of reports exist of the ghost of Anne Boleyn, but perhaps the most affecting is the version said to haunt her childhood home, Hever Castle in Kent. Some say that every Christmas Eve, the spectral figure of Anne Boleyn can be seen slowly gliding across the bridge over the river Eden toward her family home, where she was at her happiest.
-Claire Cock Starkey
Amanda Paulson / Prettyfnspooky
Headless Horseman at Roos Hall in Suffolk, England
Roos Hall in Suffolk lays claim to being one of the most haunted houses in England. The 16th century hall has a number of sinister connections, including a gruesome “hanging tree”- an oak tree planted at the site of the old gibbet where numerous criminals were hung. To make things even spookier, inside one of the building's cupboards, the mark of a devil’s cloven hoof is said to be imprinted. But perhaps the most dramatic haunting is supposed to happen every Christmas Eve: Legend has it that a headless horseman clatters down the driveway with his four black horses pulling a phantom coach, terrifying anyone who witnesses him.
-Claire Cock Starkey
The House on Diablo Drive
When I first moved to California from Long Island, New York, we rented a house on Diablo Drive. For anyone who may not know, "diablo" means "devil" in Spanish. This house had a definite vibe and I picked up on it from day one. As a vulnerable adolescent, I think it took notice of me, too. From the outside, it loomed atop a tall hill with an intricate set of stairways and paths that led to various levels of the home, since it was built into the hillside. Beyond the back patio, it was all woods. Now, I grew up playing in the woods of New York my whole life but these woods were different. The tall and mangled trees barely let in any light so it was perpetually dark and creepy.
The first real incident I can remember happened one night when my friend Sarah was sleeping over. We were laying in bed with the lights off, talking quietly, when my small TV turned on. Quick sidenote: this TV was just used for playing videotapes and had no kind of cable connection or antenna. So the TV turns on and at first it's just the blue screen I'm used to seeing. Then, as if someone is controlling a phantom remote, the TV starts rapidly flipping channels until it arrives at a screen of blaring static. At this point, I jumped out of bed, thinking one of us must be laying on the remote. Suddenly, the static stops and figure emerges on the screen of my TV. He appears to be a reverend, vehemently preaching that hell is a real place and only Jesus can save us from eternal damnation. After finding the remote in its usual spot on my dresser, we booked it out of there and spent the night on my couch.
That Christmas, we hired a petsitter to take care of our cats while we were vacationing in Mexico. It turns out, she had an encounter with our resident poltergeist when she went over to feed our cats on Christmas Day. She had just set meals down for the kitties when our Christmas tree started violently shaking. She knew it wasn't the cats because all three were eating quietly in the kitchen. The tree shook so violently it actually toppled over. She brushed it off as an earthquake, not uncommon in California, until she heard a door slam. Then another door slam. Then another. The way she described it, she walked into the long hallway with all of our bedrooms, and when she looked down it, she just saw various doors opening and slamming closed in rapid succession. Needless to say, she got out of there quickly and refused to go back without her boyfriend.
Molly Hanson, Big Think
Amanda Paulson, Prettyfnspooky
Patti Wigington, Learn Religions
Claire Cock-Starkey, Mental Floss