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Oh look! A shiny thing: The real ghosts of Christmas

Who's the scariest holiday ghost?

Kari Lucin mug.jpg
Kari Lucin

Christmas is about ghosts.

Don’t try to argue with me. I know about Halloween, and I know about All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day and Día de los Muertos, all of which are great.

But telling ghost stories in the winter is an old, old tradition that goes way back to the days long before “A Christmas Carol” came out in 1843, possibly because it gets dark so early and people figured they might as well roll with it.

If you feel melancholy at this time of year, and many people do, your Christmas ghosts might be those of the friends and family you’ve lost, and the empty places at the table. If you’re getting older, maybe your ghosts have more to do with the hopes and dreams you once had, and the lives you could have had but didn’t.

There are other ghosts, too, like the spirits of Christmas who visit Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol,” after the ghost of his old partner, Jacob Marley, drops in for a visit. It’s a whirlwind tour for Scrooge, and if you’ve ever read the book or seen an adaptation, it was probably a bit of a whirlwind for you as well.


A lot of story is packed into “A Christmas Carol” and it moves so fast you might well have forgotten the scariest part. You may be thinking it’s the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, with his skeletal hand and his faceless black robe, but it isn’t.

It’s when Scrooge spots a claw-like hand, and learns that the Ghost of Christmas Present, dying, has been sheltering two children: “wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable.” The ghost tells him that they are humanity’s children, Ignorance and Want.

When Scrooge asks if they have no refuge or resource, the Spirit reminds him of what he said earlier in the story: “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

In real life, Ignorance and Want are much more frightening than the other spirits in the story, and they’re never far away, either. It’s just that they often don’t look like two skinny children clutching at a robe, so it might be easy to look past them, to try not to notice.

Did you know that 42% of Minnesota community college students said they couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals? That was in 2019, not 1843. At least one in 262 Minnesotans experienced homelessness in 2019, too.

Those are the ghosts I worry about, and those are the ghosts we should be caring about at Christmas.

It’s a hectic time, but if you get a few extra minutes, take one or two to help someone. Call a friend who’s experienced a loss. Befriend someone whose hopes have been dashed. Put a couple dollars in a donation jar, or contribute to a food shelf, animal shelter or coat ministry. Even a little bit helps.

And remember what Scrooge’s nephew said: “But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time, when it has come round … as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"

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