IT’S not a Malaysian tradition to tell ghost stories at Christmas, but it used to be quite the done thing in Britain to gather around the fire place at Christmas and swap spooky tales.
I suspect that the practice was greatly encouraged by the cold weather at that time of the year in Britain – ideal for huddling in front of a blazing fire. Christmas is also when the family gets together, so there’s a crowd listening together, and maybe even more than one storyteller. Of course, now that there’s television, and DVDs and such, no one wants to hear grandma tell how she met the devil in the churchyard one freezing winter’s night.
Christmas time also coincides with the Celtic midwinter or winter solstice, supposedly the second most haunted time of the year (the first, for the Celts, is Samhain, celebrated at the end of October to mark the transition from “lighter” summer to “darker” autumn), and that must be another reason why ghost stories are told during the season.
For the Chinese, the most haunted time of the year is during the month of the hungry ghosts. This is when the spirits of those who died hungry, prematurely or unjustly are allowed back into the world of the living. They come seeking revenge and are mollified with offerings of food.
In the small town in Malaysia where I grew up, the hungry ghost festival was marked with displays of food in the marketplace. I loved the spectacle of rows and rows of tables heavily laden with delicious edibles. Most eye-catching were the whole pigs, several in their pink skins, several more roasted a crisp golden brown, all with apples or peaches in their mouths.