Christmas ghost story – or a visit from Santa Claus?

Listen to storyteller Babs Bagriansky narrate “The Missing Cookies”

Back when I was just a baby, my folks started a Christmas tradition that might sound familiar to many of you out there. On Christmas Eve, they’d leave a plate of cookies by the fireplace for Santa, and a small pile of hay for his reindeer. “Santa’s going to be hungry after such a long journey,” Mom used to say to my older brother. Of course, at that time I was too young to remember her doing this. But my brother told me later on that, when he’d wake up on Christmas morning, there’d be nothing left on that plate but crumbs. So that was sure-fire proof that Santa had indeed visited our home that night.

When I got to be around five years old, my family moved into a new home just south of Nashville, Tennessee. Well, it wasn’t really “new” – it was an historic Victorian house that had fallen into disrepair. I remember it being kind of spooky looking, with bordered up widows, creaky floors, yellowing wallpaper peeling off the walls and a strong musty smell – as if they hadn’t let fresh air in the place in years. It was what you would generously call a “fixer upper” – and it was the perfect project for my industrious Father.

Giant Christmas Light Display in Front of Neighborhood House

What my Dad liked best about the place was its large, rolling front yard. Now, you know how in every neighborhood there seems to be one family that goes hog wild with the Christmas lights during the holidays? Well, that was my family. My Dad strung hundreds of twinkling lights around the yard, bought huge plastic snowmen, elves, candy canes and a manger scene. He even rigged a giant, lifelike Santa’s sleigh on our roof, flashing brightly for the whole world to see. And every December night, a long line of cars would drive by our home, some folks coming from miles away just to see our display.

Now for some neighbors, such a holiday tourist attraction would quickly become a nuisance. But our neighbors seemed quite happy about our festive spirit. They told us that the strange old woman who lived in the house before us never seemed to celebrate Christmas, or any other holiday. She had lived in the house for years – long before our neighborhood was built around her. She was rarely seen, and her house stood dark and silent, with its curtains tightly drawn. The neighborhood kids believed she was a witch, and whispered ghastly tales about her at Halloween. And when she suddenly passed away, the house remained a gloomy and empty ghost on the street.

So our festive Christmas tradition was a welcome sight to our neighbors. But about a year after we moved into the house, I began to notice that one of our traditions had become conspicuously absent. My parents weren’t leaving the plate of refreshments out for Santa and his reindeer. When I asked why not, my Mom quickly told me that since we had moved, we were now one of the first homes on Santa’s route. So now he wasn’t hungry when he came to our home. In fact, if we let him fill himself up with cookies, he’d be too full to bring toys to the other children around the world.

Well that excuse didn’t fly with me. So the next Christmas, I asked Mom the same question – and she gave me the same answer. But by then I had begun to notice that I wasn’t getting a lot of the gifts I really wanted. He never brought me the horse, or the rocket ship, or the baby sister I had specifically asked for. Was Santa getting mad because we weren’t leaving him cookies anymore?

One night I eavesdropped on a whispered conversation in my parents’ bedroom. I had gotten really upset at Mom that day for refusing to leave cookies out, and now I could hear her talking to my Dad about it. They talked about how when we first moved into the old house, someone or something had eaten the cookies we left by the fireplace. Maybe it was rats, or a hungry burglar. But nothing else in the house was touched! So since they couldn’t figure out what happened, they did away with the tradition altogether.

I felt like screaming through the wall, “Of course someone ate the cookies! It was Santa!”

So that Christmas Eve, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I wasn’t about to miss out on the trip to Alaska that I had politely asked Santa for. So in the middle of the night, when my parents were fast asleep, I snuck downstairs and left a plate piled high with chocolate chip cookies by the fireplace. Mom had made plenty of them for friends that year, so I figured she wouldn’t miss just a plate full. The fireplace was in the living room, about two doors down from where the Christmas tree was, so I couldn’t tell if Santa had come and gone. But I hadn’t heard noises from downstairs all night, so I was relatively certain that Santa hadn’t arrived yet.

Well I went back to bed, but I was way too excited to sleep that night. So after an hour had passed, I decided to go downstairs and see if Santa had eaten his cookies. I tiptoed down the stairs, keenly aware of where each creaky board was located. As I got to the foot of the stairs and began creeping down the cold, dark hallway, I heard a sound that prickled my skin with excitement. It was the sound of a plate being lifted off of the fireplace, followed by ravenous munching noises. It crossed my mind to leave Santa alone – but how many kids have the opportunity to meet the man himself? So I crept up to the living room doorway and slowly peaked around the corner.

What I saw next froze me in my tracks. Santa wasn’t in the room at all – but somebody else was.

A very old woman sat on the hearth, hungrily devouring the cookies. She was dressed in a flimsy, tattered bathrobe with a flowered pattern long faded by age and repeated washings. Beneath the robe, I could see her protruding rib cage bones, heaving up and down with each pained breath. Her face looked deathly thin and pale, and her bony hands trembled as she lifted each cookie to her mouth. But she had a warm smile, which she suddenly flashed at me as she saw me at the doorway.

“I hope you don’t mind,” she said to me in a polite, mannered voice. “Your Mother makes the best cookies.”

Now when I tell you she “said” that, I don’t mean she said it out loud. To my shock, her lips didn’t move – but I heard exactly what she said in my mind.

“My name’s Eva,” she said. “I guess you’ve figured out by now that I’m a ghost. Does that scare you?”

Well, I guess older folks might have been terrified sitting there speaking with the dead. But for a seven-year-old with an unwavering belief in things like Santa Claus, a ghost didn’t bother me much. So I shook my head no.

“Good,” she said and motioned for me to sit beside her. “You know, there are many things that are scary in life. Ghosts are scary to some folks. But you know what the scariest thing of all is?”

When I shook my head again, she replied, “The scariest thing in life is being alone. And if you’re alone, the holidays only make it worse.”

She then told me about the years she lived in the house. She was born and raised there, raised a family of her own, and then watched everyone leave one by one. And when her husband passed away, and each of her children had married and moved away, she found herself alone in that big, empty house.

Eva’s children were too consumed with their own lives to spend time with her. Lonely and depressed, she lost all interest in her past hobbies like card games and reading. She never watched TV or listened to the radio. She would rarely talk to friends, and slowly lost her interest in eating. “But the worst part was losing my memory,” she said to me. “I used to hate it when people would say, ‘You remember when we used to do such-and-such?’ And I couldn’t remember.” She sighed heavily and said, “It was like someone else lived my life.”

With a family too busy to care about her, all she had left in the world was the old house. Even when wealthy developers moved in and built new homes around her, she refused to sell at any price.

But the worst time, she told me, were the holidays. The outside world was telling her she was supposed to be happy. She would see the twinkling lights outside, hear the neighborhood carolers. But without a family, those joyous sights and sounds were like mocking reminders of her loneliness. She entombed herself deeper and deeper into the house, rarely going outside. And she died alone in her bed.

But even in death, she could not escape the house. When she would open the door or a window, a dark, cold, terrifying darkness was all she could see. So she was forced to roam the house as a ghost.

She turned to me and smiled, tears welling up in her eyes. “You remember that, child. It’s much scarier to be alone than dead.”

By this time I had totally forgotten about Santa Claus or presents. Even at such a young age, I was saddened by this lonely ghost in front of me. So I suddenly blurted out, “Then why don’t you celebrate Christmas with us?”

Cookies for Santa
“Food for Santa” (also in top banner) by Ann. Licensed under C.C. BY 2.0.

Eva smiled, and then looked at the clock on the wall. “Christmas is for the living, not the dead,” she said. “But I’ll tell you what you can do. When Christmas comes, make a joyful racket in this house. Enjoy your time with your family. Play music, string up lights, have parties. Make this house a happy place again. Then I’ll know I’m not alone.”

She then winked at me and said, “Oh, and leave me a plate of your Mom’s cookies every once in a while, will you?” And with that, she disappeared like a fine mist into the darkness.

So every year after that, I did what she asked for. Each Christmas Eve, I would leave a plate of cookies for her in a different part of the house, so Mom wouldn’t suspect anything. Come Christmas morning, the cookie plate was always empty.

As I grew into an adult, married, and had children of my own, I settled down in that same old house. And like my Mom before me, I told my daughter that we had to leave a plate of cookies out for Santa – he’d be hungry from his travels, after all. And every Christmas morning, my daughter would awake with excitement and proclaim, “The cookies are all gone!”

And I would smile at her and say, yes, Santa must have really been hungry. But I knew it was our resident Christmas ghost who had stopped by, and she was now at peace for another year.


Story Credits

Written by Craig Dominey

Told by Babs Bagriansky

Photography by Craig and Connie Dominey

Sound Design by Henry Howard

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This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. siobhan casey

    wonderful, very atmospheric_ nothing beats a good story teller

  2. luvspeteypiranha

    awwwe! the story was sooo cute! i started 2 cry!?

  3. Aryanna

    I love this story when I a little girl I used to leave out cookies for Santa by the tree. One night I stayed up to see him but when I heard someone coming it was really my mom. She didnt know I was awake and she ate the cookies. Thats when I stoped believing in Santa Clause.

  4. Javin

    kids dont take this for a joke makes some cookies and see its real :)

  5. Toby

    Yeah, this was a great story!

  6. savannh

    oh how cute i loved it

  7. Alycia

    i’d be bleary eyed if i were an emotional one but i’m not…
    this is SUCH a sweet story.
    i wonder if it had any connection to the Japenese’s ‘Seven Sendings’??

  8. Rhoda

    That is about the sweetest story I have ever read. I am smiling really broadly right now, and likely will be for some time to come.

  9. i thought it would be more scary but i loved it poor lady alone

  10. Linda

    What a great story-I loved the twist in it! Very creative.

  11. reader

    exiting! fine moral :)
    wish all could read this story, its great <3

  12. Maggie

    Cute and sad I love it.

  13. Jacob

    Good story and moral, although a bit bizzare.

  14. Bic

    Well, I liked this one. It was a good one and a nice moral to go along with it.