SHAKESPEARE said “a sad tale’s best for winter” especially “one of sprites and goblins”. In the Tickell household – like well-boiled Brussels sprouts or fried breadcrumbs with the roast – ghost stories are a non-negotiable part of the festive season.

Whether it is Ebenezer Scrooge shaking hands with the Ghost of Christmas Past – ideally accompanied by Muppets – or ­Christopher Lee and Michael Hordern reading MR James’s most evocative short stories, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without spiking all that port and Stilton with that annual dash of the uncanny, the eldritch and the strange.

It takes me straight to childhood. I don’t have a particularly superstitious mind, but since I’ve been a kid, I’ve had a ­ superstitious imagination.

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Christmas has always been a time when – for many kids – the two worlds touch and boundaries are thin. The games and ploys parents use to persuade their kids that “Santa’s been” leave sooty fingerprints on the adult imagination too. But so does the climate and the landscape.

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You can’t be a northern European ­without reckoning with the pervasive ­darkness which sees the sun barely rise for weeks on end, and on a wet and overcast day – watch as the early afternoon ­collapses into evening grey. They call it the dark ­season for a reason.

We sometimes overlook the fact the ­classic festive scene described by good King Wenceslas is intrinsically weird. Even the lighting is gothic. At this time of year, the landscape itself can assume an ­uncanny, angular – even undead quality – as thrawn suns crawl under the horizon, and the moon sends shadows reeling in the ­flickering light.

With snow, there’s the eerie backlight from frost on the ground, as moonlight cuts leaves like knives out of the surrounding darkness. Without it, there’s the ­watchful gloom in hollow woods of conifers, as the apparently lifeless earth, brown and ­carpeted in needles, explodes with the ­sudden start of pheasant or kicks up the ­zig-zag flight of a woodcock, making its bid for freedom like a dart of autumn. Watch that, and you realise a Scottish December isn’t a bad time to push back against the disenchantment of the world.

Being a child of the 1980s, every ­December I’m drawn back to The Box Of Delights. John Masefield’s deeply weird Christian-Pagan Christmas adventure was turned into a celebrated series by the BBC in 1984. Fronted by the grizzled Patrick Troughton as the mystic ancient and ageless Punch and Judy Man, the show taught a whole generation that “the wolves are running” and to beware of strangers on the train – especially if they went abroad dressed as ministers of ­religion.

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Our central villain’s plan is to masquerade as a priest to prevent a Christmas service being held in the fictional Tachester ­Cathedral for the “first time in 1000 years”. If that summary sounds perfectly absurd and undramatic, I beg you, look again. With its snowy backdrop and once cutting-edge special effects, its Enid ­Blyton dialogue and the late ­Robert ­Stephens as the villain of the piece – this 1980s classic is a perfect dollop of ­festive but creepy nostalgia.

And heaven knows, it is a year which merits one hell of an ending. As we ­approach the end of 2023, you may well feel that glad tidings of great joy have been posted missing over the last 12 months – and that you’ve had quite enough of ­horror. The Holy Land remains in the grip of unholy conflict. For the last year, much of British politics has felt haunted, stuck in the glue trap of past decisions and old friendships and alliances gone sour, of nostalgia and regret.

This December, each of the political parties feels like its forward momentum is constrained by squinting backwards at the host of spirits chasing after them. In ­January 2023, Nicola Sturgeon was first minister of Scotland, unarrested, ­apparently unlikely to resign, with no ­obvious political heir, and no ­widespread expectation that an heir would ­imminently be required.

The National: Councils have appealed directly to Rishi Sunak in a bid to secure more funding (Justin Tallis/PA)

Rishi Sunak was just a couple of months into his premiership, making bold claims of restoring “integrity and accountability” as the mouldering lettuce of Liz Truss’s premiership wilted in the public imagination, and “sensible centrists” hailed the new regime as a beacon of reasonableness and political maturity.

None of these prophecies have aged well. Sturgeon resigned in February, prompting the damaging and uninspiring leadership race which ultimately crowned Humza Yousaf First Minister. Although the SNP’s fortunes were ­probably already on the slide in ­early 2023 – they have yet to recover.

Sunak’s stability regime has also ­proven remarkably unstable. Within months of kissing hands with the new king, Sunak was sacking his Tory chair for ­lying about his tax affairs and instructing his lawyers to menace people for making substantially true allegations about the unpaid cash he owed HMRC. Barely a month later, he lost his deputy prime minister Dominic Raab to allegations of bullying. Sacking Suella would take a little longer. Tory instability has continued.

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In the SNP, the divisions seeded by the Salmond trial and gender recognition reform look set to rumble on into yet ­another session.

Some British tabloids are haunted by fantasies of a true-blue Tory restoration, with escapist ideas that the return of Boris – hand in hand with Nigel Farage – might restore the ailing Conservative Party’s fortunes by ousting the awkward Sunak leadership.

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During 2023, Westminster has been haunted by an unprecedented wave of sleaze and scandal. A report in the Financial Times this weekend found that more “than one in 20 MPs has been suspended from Commons, stripped of party whip, or quit parliament in the wake of misconduct allegations since last general election”.

In the House of Commons, MP by MP, Sunak’s Commons majority is being ­eroded by diverse kinds of gross moral turpitude, from bullying and ­sexual ­harassment of parliamentary ­underlings to last week’s decision to suspend Scott Benton, the former Tory MP for ­Blackpool South after he was caught up in a lobbying sting which sent the public the ­message that “he was corrupt and ‘for sale’, and that so were many other ­Members of the House”.

Meanwhile, Keir Starmer’s Labour Party has embraced the powers of ­necromancy, opening coffins across the Blairite rite to fill empty Westminster candidacies with throwback candidates from New Labour’s last stint in power. Having done their penance in the underworld of NGOs and lobby groups after 2015, figures like Douglas Alexander and Blair McDougall have been parachuted back into winnable Scottish seats.

If Private Eye is to be believed, even Blairite stormtrooper and ex-Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy is beginning to enjoy a second life as an influence peddler, given the likelihood Starmer will be prime minister after the next General Election, facilitating access to senior figures in the Labour Party through his “internationally renowned advisory and ­communications firm” Arden Strategies.

There’s no end to the hauntings. As 2023 ends, governments in London and in Edinburgh are haunted by the ongoing Covid inquiries. The roll call of the dead and the departed crowd around the ­hearing rooms.

The economy is still haunted by ­Brexit. Scottish politics is haunted by its ­unresolved constitutional future. And the SNP are haunted by their inability to forge any forward momentum.

Like any governing party holding office for a long time, they are also haunted by all the decisions they did and didn’t take since 2007, as the consequences – good and bad – as these decisions have matured. This week, Humza’s government will publish an ­impossible Budget, caught between a series of competing demands for public spending and difficult choices.

Having struck a new concord with local government, conference nerves resulted in a sweeping and apparently uncosted commitment to a council tax freeze which looks guaranteed to be regressive and put even more pressure on local government budgets.

2023 hasn’t made a lucky general of Humza Yousaf. After less than a year in charge, Humza remains haunted by unflattering comparisons with his ­predecessor – and his predecessor and the party she once led are haunted by still-unresolved questions about whether ­Police Scotland’s never-ending inquiry into the SNP’s finances will yield any substantive charges or peter out with an equally unsatisfying Crown Office comment that there “is insufficient evidence to undertake proceedings at this time”.

When Humza glances into his ­other rearview mirror, he also sees Alex ­Salmond continuing to shake his chops and chunter about further legal actions against the Scottish Government as the fallout from the original complaints about his conduct as First Minister continue to fallout almost a half-decade on.

Feeling optimistic about 2024 feels hopelessly optimistic right now. Someone call an exorcist.