8 Books to Get You into the Christmas Mood (That AREN'T A Christmas Carol)
When you think of a Christmas book, I'll bet 10 to 1 the first (and maybe even only) book that comes to mind is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
I'm not here to bash on A Christmas Carol; it's a wonderful book. Its popularity is well-deserved, and its impact on our modern Christmas celebrations is hard to overstate. Still, sometimes we focus so much on Dickens' famous novella we miss out on the many, many other great written works out there that have been written about this season.
I've been having a wonderful time exploring some of these overlooked works this year and want to share some recommendations with you. This list includes books of letters, short story collections, children's books, poems, novellas, and novels. There are books here for people of all ages so no matter your age or tastes, there's something for you here to enrich your Christmas experience.
And don't we all need little extra Christmas cheer this year? 2020's been rough.
1. Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien
I can't believe that I'd never heard of this book until this year! Still, it's worked out alright, because just this year, HMH Books published a beautiful centenary edition filled with — well, I'll get to that in a moment.
In 1920, when the Hobbit author's kids wrote to Father Christmas, Father Christmas started writing back. This book is a compilation of all of Father Christmas's letters to Tolkien's children until 1943. They are just as fun and imaginative as you'd expect from a fantasy writer. There's interjections from clumsy but sassy North Polar Bear, who helps Father Christmas with his Christmas preparations. There's tales of wars with goblins (explaining why, during wartime years, supplies are low and Father Christmas can't send as many presents).
It's just a deliciously charming read. One of the most surprisingly touching elements for me was seeing Tolkien's children grow up from one year to the next through the eyes of a loving parent (I mean Santa Claus). You see children added, children who are grown and moved away but to whom Father Christmas sends love, children who've stopped writing to Santa.
At the end of the book, I cried when I read the very last letter, the last year that his youngest child wrote to Santa before she got too big. It reminds one of how fleeting those magical childhood years are, and how they should be cherished both during them and as a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or godparent of a child.
This centenary edition is extra special, because it includes reproductions of the original letters written in Tolkien's own Father Christmas hand (always wobbly because of how cold it is at the North Pole) as well as the original drawings. If you have a hard time reading the wobbly writing, never fear; they've typed up the letters as well for easier reading.
I can't recommend this book enough for children of all ages (just beware of the introduction for those kids who still believe). It also makes a great Christmas gift for families and Tolkien fans.
2. Letters to Santa compiled by Logan Thatcher
Since we've included a book with letters FROM Santa, it only makes sense to share a book of letters TO Jolly Old Saint Nick.
This book is a collection of cute letters American children wrote to Santa between 1900-1920 compiled from those published in newspapers during that time.
It's a fun, quick read that reminds one of what it was like to be a child, hoping to find the perfect gift under the tree. Nothing touches the heart like reading the most desperate desires of young children who believe in Santa Claus.
After reading through this, here are a few of my impressions:
I never fail to be touched by the sweetness of those children telling Santa they don’t want much this year but please don’t forget their siblings; or aunts or uncles; or the poor.
Serious respect to those sassy writers who let Santa know he is to bring everything on the list, and also don't bother with the chimney when the front door is unlocked.
Also.... were kids really being given fireworks as presents a hundred years ago? There are SO MANY requests for fireworks and even specifically Roman candles from 5-10 year olds it made me wonder if these kids were just dreaming of the unattainable or if Santa had really questionable safety standards for children a hundred years ago!
You can find the paperback or Kindle version of this book on Amazon.
3. A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
This book took me by surprise. When I think of Truman Capote, I think of Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood, neither of which has ever been accused of being very sentimental (unless of course you're thinking of the movie adaptation starring Audrey Hepburn , which is a lovely film but very unlike the book).
A Christmas Memory made me ugly cry. It's not that it's overly sentimental or terribly tragic; it plays on the harp chords ever so gently, but creating a beautiful melody. It's an autobiographical story of himself at the age of 7 in the 1930s, living with grown extended family members who won't give him the time of day, except his elderly distant cousin and best friend, Sook.
Times are tough, and they are living in poverty, but the story is filled with joy. He and Sook look forward every year to putting their whole savings together to buy the ingredients for fruitcakes, which they share with everyone they think who deserves them (including the President of the United States and xxxxx). The story is unfailingly tender and will undoubtedly inspire you to slow down a bit this Christmas in favor of the sweet, simple moments shared in this story.
4. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story by Gloria Houston
Here's another story of a family with meagre means enjoying the meaning of Christmas in its truest essence. This book tells the story of Ruthie and her parents who live humbly in a little North Carolina town in the Appalachian mountains. It's a story that's been passed down through generations until Gloria Houston wrote it down in this children's book. "It happened this way," she writes, "Ruthie told me so."
Every year in this village, one family is assigned the honor and responsibility for providing a live Christmas tree for the town's church on Christmas Eve. This year, it's Ruthie's family's turn. While Papa had helped pick out the tree in the summer months, come December he is still off fighting in the war. In the days leading up to Christmas, soldier after soldier returns home, but no Papa. The town offers to find someone else to provide a tree, but Mama insists it's their turn, and they will provide.
What I love about this story is how powerfully it shows a mother's love, ever so simply and quietly. As a mother myself, this was another story that touched my heart. It shows just how much a mother does to bring joy to her children. It's a cozy, warm read that's certain to get you in the Christmas spirit this year.
5. "The Christmas Tree" by Hans Christian Andersen
This is a sweet little story by the master of fairytales and folk stories, Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. It's about a little fir tree all alone in the woods, wishing it could only grow up and be put to good use. The tree ignores the advice of the birds, who've seen more of the world and advise the tree to be content and enjoy being young and living in the forest.
One day, the fir tree's dream comes true, and he's chopped down to serve as the Christmas Eve tree in a grand house for what becomes the best night of his life.
It's a story that feels like it's meant to have a moral, though what the intended moral is is up for debate, as far as I'm concerned. As for me, it reinforced my belief in keeping a Christmas tree up as long as possible before taking it down! None of this one-night business.
6. "Amazing Peace" by Maya Angelou
If you haven't got the time or the focus to sit down and read a whole book this month, turn to Maya Angelou. She wrote the poem "Amazing Peace" for the 2005 White House tree lighting ceremony, and it's a beautiful reminder of what we all are looking for at Christmas: peace.
"Amazing Peace" does not ignore the difficulty of life nor the hate and misunderstanding that pervades the world, but it also celebrates the Peace of Christmastime shared by those of all faiths. It's both a celebration and a call for each of us to summon that peace within ourselves to make the whole world a more peaceful place.
Here's a small excerpt, but it's best enjoyed in its entirety:
At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth's tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.
You can read the poem in its entirety for free here. Better yet, watch Maya Angelou's reading of it at the tree lighting ceremony. Nothing compares to the deep richness of her voice reading her own beautiful, lyrical words.
You can purchase this poem in book form at Amazon.
7. Christmas Days: 12 Stories & 12 Feasts for 12 Days by Jeanette Winterson
This book is just a delight. I'm pretty sure I had a goofy smile on my face the entire time I was reading it.
Jeanette Winterson has put together a treasure of a collection of 12 Christmas-themed short stories and recipes. There's a good mixture of stories about ghosts (in true Victorian tradition), orphans, and people finding love or life after love.
The stories are rife with magic, ghosts, talking animals, and a lot of heart. Some are spooky, some sad, some sweet, so you never get sick of hitting just one note. That also makes it a refreshing break from all of the very predictable Christmas stories and movies.
Between each story is a Christmas recipe from the author with a short piece about what that recipe means and represents to her or her loved ones. And if you thought reading recipes can't be fun, you're in for a treat. These are like no recipe you've ever read: they're sprinkled with witticisms and wry commentary, like the following excerpt when the recipe calls for unpasteurized cheese:
"Yes, all unpasteurised. I could write a long essay here about bacteria, but it's Christmas, and bacteria aren't that festive. I don't blame them; it's just not their way."
Check out this beautiful, heartfelt, funny book. I really think you'll enjoy it. My personal favorite stories are "Christmas-tide," "Spirit of Christmas," and "The Glow-Heart."
8. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Last but not least, you can of course always spend Christmas with the Marchs. While the book definitely leans toward being overly sentimental, what better time to get a little sentimental than Christmas?
Follow along with the March daughters as they navigate life and love, growing from girls into women, with each year's passing marked by their family's Christmas celebration.
And while Little Women is my least favorite of the recommendations on this list (don't hunt me down, please), it's still a Christmas classic and worth at least one read — more, if you grew up reading it and it holds that special fuzzy place in your heart that books we loved as children tend to do.
And if you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and watch last year's movie adaptation of the book adapted by Greta Gerwig as well as the 1994 version.
Those are my 8 Christmas read recommendations this year! I've already seen some titles I can't wait to read and share with you this time next year.
What are some of your favorites?
Pin this post to return to my recommendations every Christmas season