I expect we have Charles Dickens to thank for the Christmas holiday traditions many people follow today. "The identification of Dickens with the festival of Christmas, so deeply inscribed in the popular culture of the English-speaking world, began when he was still a young man, just over a month short of his thirty-second birthday, but already firmly established as England's favorite novelist." Several years ago I read Dickens's A Christmas Carol (and Other Christmas Writings), so it seemed only fitting that this year (on the first day of winter--and shortest day of the year no less) that I should choose a short story by Dickens from the same book.
"The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton" is part of Dickens's The Pickwick Papers, a serial that ran for nearly two years and was made up of loosely related adventures as well as interpolated stories, one of which is the Goblin story. I've not read The Pickwick Papers, so I'm not sure which came first, the short story or A Christmas Carol, but they are quite similar in make up.
In the story of "The Goblins Who Stole a Sexton" we have Gabriel Grub as our Scrooge, a rather misanthropic gravedigger, which Dickens insures us is very unusual. They are generally the merriest of people in the world, but not our Gabriel Grub, an "ill-conditioned, cross-grained, surly fellow--a morose and lonely man, who consorted with nobody but himself, and an old wicker bottle which fitted into his large deep waistcoat pocket; and who eyed each merry face as it passed him by, with such a deep scowl of malice and ill-humor, as it was difficult to meet without feeling something worse for the wear."
As an example of his ill-humor--as he was off to dig a grave and walking down an badly lit alleyway he raps a small happy-go-lucky boy over the head with his lantern five or six times (not just once!) to "teach him to modulate his voice." No worries, though, as Mr. Grub is about to be taught a lesson of his own. No Christmas spirits, but a gaggle of goblins. I'm not sure which would be worse. He's visited first by one "strange unearthly creature" who then drags him down through the earth into a cavern where there seems to be a goblin kingdom. There, he'll learn some better manners. Dickens likes to squeeze your heart just a little bit, doesn't he. Gabriel Grub will be shown all sorts of misery, even the death a small, much loved child. If that's not enough, Mr. Grub will have some sense smacked into him by the goblins as well. Literally.
He awakes a better man. And hopefully he's left that wicker bottle of his behind for good. All in all this was a good story to read on a short (cold!) day the weekend before Christmas.