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Ghost stories and Christmas go together like milk and cookies. Long before Charles Dickens wrote about Jacob Marley knocking at Scrooge’s door there was a long tradition of tales to send Jack Frost skipping up and down your spine before nipping at your nose. Of course, sailors also have their own superstitions, which give us legends like that of the ghostly Flying Dutchman.

Author Lou Aguilar blends both in his yuletide yarn, The Christmas Spirit, a novel that’s about as threatening as a cable TV Christmas movie and as cozy as a spiked hot cocoa. The pages are practically pine-scented as every word picture conjures up memories of Christmas past. It might be fun to make a playlist of all the songs he mentions and listen to them while reading curled up under the mistletoe. 

While on a Christmas dinner cruise, journalist Caroline York falls overboard and into the cold waters of the New England coast. Before hypothermia can take hold, a boat with golden sails and helmed by a handsome lighthouse keeper rescues her. The man’s name is Tate, and back at the lighthouse he revives Caroline and chastly comforts her.

The next morning, Caroline awakes to find fresh clothes and a simple breakfast. But no Tate. When the Coast Guard arrives on the small island, they tell her that the lighthouse has been automated for years, and when Caroline rushes back inside there’s no sign of the handsome lighthouse keeper. 

Somewhat disenchanted with her idyllic existence before her brush with death, Caroline grows increasingly frustrated with everyone trying to convince her that she dreamed up her rescuer. To determine what really happened, she’s willing to risk losing her job writing for a major lifestyle magazine, her lawyer fiancee, and even her life. Along the way she encounters a sea captain full of holiday cheer (and expensive rum). He tells her a tall tale of tragedy, with a hint of Christmas magic.

It’s too easy during the dark days of December to drown in waves of nostalgia. Ironically, the original definition of nostalgia is “morbid homesickness.” Like poor Tate, we might feel like we’re under a Christmas curse when we should be cherishing gifts, both those received and those promised. As the angel said, “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  

Yes, we feel our losses more keenly even as we embrace the good news of the Savior. Life and death stand side by side in sharp contrast by Christmas candlelight. Perhaps it’s that strange juxtaposition that makes these festive fright fabels persist. Thankfully, we’ll always have stories like The Christmas Spirit to remind us that it’s the most WONDERFUL time of the year. (Word Castle Publishing, LLC)

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