Divested from its religious function, Christmas has been granted, by popular culture, a sort of boundless magic. When you've got a corpulent, Coca-Cola-plugging elf balking the strictures of time and space, all bets are off. Toys and anthropomorphic snow piles might come to life, angels might mingle with mortals, derelicts could surprise you and reveal themselves to be Santa. With the door barring our world from the supernatural one ajar at this time of year--when the inky, quiet nights last longer than the rest of the year--it only makes sense that it's not only joyful, commercial magic that should sneak through, but some sinister stuff as well.
Scrooge's midnight callers are certainly literature's the best known escapees, and for the past few years, Biblioasis--with the help of Seth--have made available some of the truly venerable examples of Christmas ghost stories. However, for those looking for a more contemporary take on the eldritch side of Christmas, Christopher Golden has collected eighteen holiday horrors in Hark! The Herald Angels Scream.
If you find yourself idle in the quiet dark of post-party loneliness, or if you're looking for an excuse to escape from family, or if you're up late anyway on the 24th listening for the sounds of an intruder, Hark! The Herald Angels Scream makes the perfect companion. Stuffing this stocking is the likes of a visit from Mummers, a genetically modified puppy, a murder weapon that only appears once a year, a cult leader invited to a holiday party, the tones of the stories ranging from campy, to pulpy, to genuinely dark. A sign of a good anthology, these stories will double as introductions to a few of your new favourite authors.
The Christmas season is an odd mix of blithe cloyingness, expectant happiness and wonder, as well as foundational stress and resentment and maybe even seething hatred. Golden's anthology wonderfully captures the full scope of this conflicted time of year.