Commenter Heidi shared on my recent post on storytelling at Christmastime the link to the story of the December Liturgy of the Dead. I believe this tale can also be found in Thomas Keightley's Fairy Mythology, but I had no idea it was still in circulation in other parts of the world. So in keeping with my own advice about balancing the warm and fuzzy holiday feelings with some chilling tales from our ancestors, here's the story for you all to enjoy:
"The story takes place in Oslo, where there lived a woman, a bit over her prime age. It was Christmas Eve and she had decided to go to church Christmas morning. During the night she woke up, her watch had stopped, so she did not know what time it was. She walked over to the window and looked toward the church. There was light in all the windows. She dressed herself, took the hymn book and went to church. It was empty in the streets and she saw noone. When she arrived the church, she sat down where she used to sit. She looked around and thought the people there looked so pale and strange. There was no one she knew, but there were many she thought she had seen before, she just did not remember quite where. When the priest arrived, he was someone she did not know, though she thought she had seen him before. He was a tall and pale man.
The priest preached beautifully, but it was quiet, and not coughing in the churchroom as she was accustomed to. It was so quiet that she almost got a little scared by it. When they began to sing, a woman, who sat next to her, bent towards her and whispered into her ear: Throw the coat loosely on your shoulders and leave this place. If you stay, this will be your end, because this is time for the dead. The wife was afraid, because when she heard her voice and looked at her, she realized that it was neighbor woman who had died long ago. She was really scared. She put on her coat, like the woman had said and left. As she walked, it was as if they grabbed her. Her legs trembled so that she thought she would fall. When she came out on the stairs, she felt how they hold her back in her coat, so she let go of the coat and she ran home as fast as she could. Back home, she collapsed of the anxiety.
Next morning, when people came to church, they found her coat on the stairs, torn apart into a thousand pieces."
Tell that one at your next Christmas party :)