WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — You’ve no doubt heard the Andy Williams classic Christmas song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

I am sure you also remember that line that seems somewhat out of place:

“…and scary ghost stories from Christmases long, long ago.”

Yes, believe it or not, it was once quite common to hear ghost stories at Christmastime. Like so many holiday traditions, it is one tradition that goes way, way back.

In the November 4, 2016 issue of the University of Pennsylvania Omnia Blog, Professor of the Humanities Justin McDaniel says that the winter solstice, the darkest time of the year, was believed by early European cultures to be the time when the dead had the most access to the living.

There are many stories of ghosts and monsters directly connected to the solstice and Christmastime, from strange goblins in portions of Europe to downright horrifying tales from Iceland of the reanimated corpses of dead Vikings coming back to life and terrorizing the living. Even Shakespeare wrote about yuletide ghosts.

In 601 CE, Pope Gregory issued his edict to his missionaries, telling them not to eliminate native holidays and customs, but consecrate them and allow them to continue. This is likely why the ghost stories continued in England. Well, that is, until Henry VIII messed it up.

If Henry VIII hadn’t broken England away from the Catholic Church to form the Church of England, there wouldn’t have been a crackdown on Catholicism, including its holidays and traditions. By the time Charles I became king, Anglican and Protestant reforms were firmly entrenched in English Society.

Then came Oliver Cromwell and a crackdown on holidays, including Christmas. Cromwell would go on to hang Charles I and take over England, leading to a pretty historically accurate Monty Python song. (Parental guidance is suggested.)

Christmas slowly started falling out of favor, especially during the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. It would take the work of American author Washington Irving writing about traditional English Christmas, and of course, Charles Dickens’s classic “A Christmas Story” to revive Christmas and the tradition of telling “scary ghost stories.”

In America, the tradition of the Christmas ghost story never quite caught on. Instead, the scary stories remained a Halloween tradition.

In England, where Halloween wasn’t as popular, Guy Fawkes Day eventually overshadowed it. In England and Scotland, Halloween was the more popular holiday. It’s believed as English, Scottish, and Irish immigrants settled in America, the two holidays blended and gave us our American Halloween.

On the other hand, Christmas was mainly just another day in the United States, especially with many English customs falling out of favor following the Revolution. It wasn’t until 1870 that Christmas officially became a federal holiday, and it’s believed that Dickens’ and Irving’s writings played a crucial role in “saving Christmas.”

Fast forward to 1962. Andy Williams has a popular TV show that needed Christmas songs for its Christmas episode. So actor and songwriter Edward Pola and composer Edward Wyle, best known for composing the theme to Gilligan’s Island, came up with “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

There’s no particular reason why the line is included, but the consensus appears to be that they wanted to give the song a sense of nostalgia with callbacks to Dickens and other Christmas-related ghostly tales.

It does paint a wonderful picture, though. Images of the sort of Christmas that, deep down, we want to experience for ourselves — a return to traditions.

Believe it or not, traditions are very important and beneficial to society, even if they evolve and change over time. Studies indicate that the rituals connected to our holidays help alleviate anxiety.

Psychologist Dr. Michele L. Brennan says our holiday traditions are “essentially ritualistic behaviors that nurture us and our relationships.” She calls them primal, going back to the dawn of man.

In that context, it all starts to make sense. A dark home, lit by just a fireplace and candles, a family gathered around the hearth, and a scary ghost story to make them all huddle together sounds like a Christmas tradition to me.