This past week, my regular break from the observatory straddled the Christmas holiday. I spent some of that time celebrating with friends and family. I spent some of that time working on Tales of the Talisman Magazine. I also spent some of that time working on a new horror novel tentatively entitled The Astronomer’s Crypt, which is the story of dark forces being unleashed on an unsuspecting observatory one stormy night. On one hand, it seems a little strange to spend the Christmas holidays writing a scary novel. On the other hand, when one looks at Christmas, there are some pretty scary traditions associated with the darkest nights of the year.
This year, Krampus seems to be getting a lot of attention. He’s a goat-like creature from Germanic folklore who travels with St. Nicholas. Whereas St. Nicholas brings presents to good children, Krampus takes evil children directly to Hell. (Do not pass “Go.” Do not collect $200!) Essentially, he’s Santa’s scary enforcer. The traditions say he’s chained. Apparently Santa captured him and controls him. As a writer, I see definite story potential in that idea. In countries such as Austria, Hungary, and Croatia, people dress up as Krampus and rattle chains and bells at children, reminiscent of a Halloween monster in an American haunted house.
As it turns out, you don’t have to go as far as Eastern Europe to find Christmas chills. Just look at one of the novels most associated with Christmas itself, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. To me, Marley’s ghost and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come have always been frightening. Their whole job is to scare Scrooge into being a good man. Even the Ghost of Christmas Present, who is generally friendly and jovial frightens Scrooge by presenting the loathsome children Want and Ignorance.
Even recent popular culture associated with Christmas has some scary elements. I grew up watching Rankin Bass holiday specials such as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer with its Abominable Snow Monster of the North and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town with its Winter Warlock. Although these bad guys eventually become good and are relatively tame, I remember them scaring me when I first encountered them.
The joy and light of Christmas are so emphasized that we sometimes forget that they symbolically triumph over darkness and evil. It actually feels right to have a few monsters lurking in the dark corners of the holiday so they can be chased away by good spirits. As we wrap up 2013, I wish you peace and prosperity in the coming year and hope all the dark spirits remain in the shadows.