- Holidays and Celebrations
The Best Books about Christmas
The best books about Christmas
Welcome to my lens entitled " Best Books about Christmas"!
It is November as I write this article, the town's Christmas lights are being hung and there is a definite chill in the air. As the days become shorter, and we tend to spend more time indoors, this is a perfect time to seek out those wonderful books about Christmas that put us in the mood for the upcoming Christmas season. These stories, for the most part, convey a positive message of warmth and spirituality. I certainly don't claim to have compiled the ultimate list of books about Christmas but I have chosen my favourites. I would love to hear about your favourite stories that aren't included in this article.
Many of the Christmas stories I have included in this article were written primarily about the Christmas season but I have included many Christmas stories not associated with Christmas but contain wonderful passages about the Christmas season as viewed by the author.
The writer of one of the most famous Christmas books for adults
When one thinks of the most famous author who writes books about Christmas, Charles Dickens , the prolific Victorian novelist, most certainly comes to mind. During Queen Victoria's rule Christmas became, not just a sacred occasion but also the joyous, lively celebration as we know it today. Prince Albert, the Prince Consort and husband to Queen Victoria, introduced his Germanic traditions to the British public. The Christmas tree lit with little candles and decorated with ornaments, little gifts and sweets became a part of the tradition.
Carol singing door to door, dancing, wassail, mince pies, Christmas crackers, turkey for Christmas dinner (introduced from North America) and all the trimmings, plum puddings and many other indulgences became synonymous with Christmas. Charles Dickens captured the mood of the Victorians in his novels and stories. While he wrote several books about Christmas, the best known must be 'A Christmas Carol ', published in 1843, which follows the transformation of Scrooge , the main character, from a miserly stockbroker with very little humanity to a philanthropist all in one night as a result of the visit from three ghosts: Christmas past, Christmas present and the ghost of 'Christmas yet to come' who show him the error of his ways. This story is actually very topical when you think of present day and the worldwide economic crises brought about due to greed in the banking industry.
Lord Francis Jeffrey, lawyer, and literary critic, wrote to Dickens:
'Blessings on your kind heart...you may be sure you have done more good by this little publication, fostered more kindly feelings,and prompted more positive acts of beneficence, that can be traced to all the pulpits and confessionals in Christendom since Christmas 1842.'
Charles Dickens had the ability to make the reader feel a part of a Victorian Christmas.
Ebenezer Scrooge worked as a clerk for Mr. Fezziwig when he was a young man and, in the book, he is transported back to that time by the Ghost of Christmas Past. There is a wonderful description of Mr. Fezziwig's Christmas Eve party.
Work has come to an end, the desks, chairs and tables are cleared away and the celebrations begin with fiddlers and dancing,
"There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer. But the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and Boiled, when the fiddler (an artful dog, mind! the sort of man who knew his business better than you or I could have told it him!) struck up "Sir Roger de Coverley."
In contrast, Dicken's, who experienced poverty in his youth, also drew attention to the plight of the poor in his writings. It was a very different kind of Christmas for many in his books. His clerk, Bob Cratchit , struggles to support a family that includes his crippled son, Tiny Tim . Scrooge's housekeeper Mrs Dilber finds it very difficult to live on the meagre wage paid for her services.
The men who visit Scrooge at his office are there to collect money for the poor and destitute who are being threatened with debtor's prison, the fate experienced by Dicken's own father. . 'A Christmas Carol' is so popular even today that it has been staged and many versions have been filmed. There have even been versions played by Mr. Magoo and The Muppets . Of course, the best loved version shown on television every year stars Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge.
Charles Dickens wrote four other Christmas books that are well worth reading and worth reading aloud. Dicken's travelled the world giving readings of 'A Christmas Carol', 'The Chimes', 'The Cricket On The Hearth','The Battle Of Life', and 'The Haunted Man'. He also wrote an amusing chapter called, 'The Pickwickians Celebrate' from 'The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club,1837'. The portly Mr. Pickwick dances and feasts the night away on Christmas Eve at Manor Farm, Muggleton:
'Away went Mr. Pickwick - hands across- down the middle to the very end of the room,
and half-way up the chimney, back again to the door - poussette everywhere -
loud stamp on the ground - ready for the next couple - off again - all the
figure over once more - another stamp to beat out the time - next couple,
and the next, and the next again - never was such going!'
'A Child's Christmas In Wales' by Dylan Thomas
A keepsake Christmas book
' A Child's Christmas In Wales' , published in 1955 has become a favourite story of remembrances of a childhood spent in Wales but it is an embellished remembrance? The snow was whiter and deeper, the presents more abundant, the gatherings in the front room more amenable and there were Christmas adventures. Dylan Thomas wrote:
"One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now
and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment
before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when
I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six."
These lines compel you to read on and fall under the spell of his use of language.
'A Child's Christmas In Wales' - One of the best children's Christmas books
Dylan Thomas reading 'A Child's Christmas In Wales'.
A Child's Christmas In Wales
Classic Children's Christmas Books
For All Ages
In this section, I'd like to present you with my favourite selection of classic children's Christmas books.
"A Christmas Story" by Brian Wildsmith
The story of Jesus's birth stands alone as the utimate and most wonderful story about Christmas. It may be the first story told to a child in certain households but the biblical language may prove to be very difficult for them to understand. Brian Wildsmith , a top class illustrator/writer, in his children's book, "A Christmas Story" published by Oxford University Press in 1989 tells the Christmas story through the eyes of a little girl named Rebecca who sets off on a journey with a baby donkey to find the donkey's mother who is taking Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. The book is told in simple language and is beautifully illustrated in vibrant colours.
'The Tailor Of Gloucester' by Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter , the English author, illustrator, conservationist and natural scientist, lived from 1866 - 1943. She wrote some of the most imaginative and beautifully illustrated books for children starting with ' The Tales Of Peter Rabbit' . She went on to write many more books featuring charming little animals of the countryside doing the most unusual things and making all their adventures so believable.
'The Tailor Of Gloucester' is a charming little story set at Christmastime in the Cathedral town of Gloucester, England. A tailor has been commissioned to make an ornate waistcoat for the Mayor of Gloucester's wedding which is taking place on Christmas Day. The tailor has cut out all the material in preparation for sewing but he becomes very ill and must stay in bed until the morning of Christmas Day. With a heavy heart he makes his way to his shop only to find that the little mice of Gloucester have sewn together and embellished the waistcoat to an extraordinary high standard except for a little piece of twist for one buttonhole which he finishes off himself. The mayor is more than pleased and the tailor becomes well known and very prosperous.
The Elves and the Shoemaker by The Brothers Grimm
Another story with this theme that is partly set at Christmastime is The Brothers Grimm tale, 'The Elves And The Shoemaker' , written in the early 19th century which features little elves who busy themselves at night making shoes for the overworked shoemaker. In recognition the shoemaker and his wife make a beautiful set of clothes for the elves which makes them very happy and they all live together happily ever after.
James Herriot and his Christmas stories
James Herriot , author and veterinarian, who lived in North Yorkshire, England, wrote about the land and the animals he knew and loved. He published many stories under the titles: 'All Creatures Great And Small' , which also became a popular television series; 'All Things Bright and Beautiful' ; 'All Things Wise and Wonderful' ; 'The Lord God Made Them All' ; and 'Every Living Thing' .
He also wrote a book dedicated to cats, one dedicated to dogs and a volume of 'Animal Stories' . There is a lovely Christmas-themed story in his book, 'James Herriot's Cat stories' called, 'Buster, The Christmas Day Kitten' published in 1994 by BCA..It is the true, very touching story, about Debbie, a scruffy, stray black cat he first encountered one Christmas Day when he was called out to a house in the Dales. The story concludes a year later once again on Christmas Day with the birth of a little kitten, named Buster.
In 'There's Christmas - and Christmas' from 'James Herriot's Animal Stories' published in 1997 by McClelland and Stewart, Christmas Day is a regular working day for a country vet. James is woken from a deep sleep at 6 a.m. on Christmas morning to see to a sick cow on one of the hill farms and then visits a farmer with a goat in great distress. It seems the goat has swallowed a pair of the farmer's elasticated drawers that had been hanging on the washing line which causes great amusement .In appreciation, James is rewarded with a large glass of whiskey, a chunk of Wensleydale cheese and a piece of iced Christmas cake. He writes:
'I could see the village with the Kirbys' cottage at the end. I had found Christmas and peace and goodwill
and everything back there.
Farmers? They were the salt of the earth.'
Even More Classic Children's Christmas Books
As recommended by the author of this article
The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber
'The Mousehole Cat' by Antonia Barber and illustrated by Nicola Bayley , published by Walker Books, 1990 is about a fisherman, Tom, and his cat, Mowzer, who save the village from hunger by facing a fierce storm around Christmas time and bringing back a haul of fish. As they enter the harbour with their catch they notice that all the inhabitants of Mousehole are guiding them in by shining lanterns. It is still a tradition today in Mousehole, Cornwall and people come from far and wide:
'to see Mousehole lit up with a thousand lights, shining their message of hope and a safe haven to all those who pass in peril of the sea.'
The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
I first encountered 'The Snowman' by Raymond Briggs as an animated film which won the British Academy Award for the best children's entertainment of 1982. The beautiful music was composed by Howard Blake but there is no dialogue so I was surprised to discover that Raymond Briggs actually wrote the book in 1978. It is a simple story about a boy who makes a snowman who comes to life at midnight on Christmas Eve, then they embark on all kinds of adventures and even visit Father Christmas at the North Pole. The simplicity is probably the beauty of this book along with the wonderful, colourful illustrations - it has become a classic. Briggs also wrote an amusing book called, 'Father Christmas' about a grumpy Father Christmas who complains about everything to do with his job, which is a quirky take on the kind of Santa Claus we have come to know and love.
'The Wind In The Willows' by Kenneth Grahame , (1859 - 1932)
Christmas comes to Mole End from 'The Wind In The Willows' , 1908, with all the wonderful characters: Ratty, Mole, Tommy, and field mouse carol singers.
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
J.K. Rowling wrote about Christmas in her Harry Potter books. Hogwart's School is set in a winter wonderland .Christmas was celebrated by giving gifts (sometimes some very unusual ones) and there was a magical Christmas ball with tables groaning with extraordinary delicacies.
In 'Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire' (published in 2000 by Bloomsbury Publishing) Dobbie, the goblin, has bought Harry Potter a present and Harry hasn't bought anything for Dobbie so he pulls out a pair of old socks which belonged to his Uncle Vernon to give to him as a Christmas gift:
'Socks are Dobby's favourite, favourite clothes, sir! he said, ripping off his odd ones and pulling on Uncle Vernon's. 'I has seven now, sir ... but, sir ...'he said, his eyes widening, having pulled both socks up to their highest extent, so that they reached to the bottom of his shorts, 'they has made a mistake in the shop, Harry Potter, they is giving you two the same!'
Even More Books About Christmas
'The Polar Express' by Chris Van Allsburg , which has become an animated Christmas classic.
'The Selfish Giant' by the Victorian novelist, Oscar Wilde , which has also been animated. tells the story of how a little boy visiting his garden transforms him into a loving, caring giant.
'How The Grinch Stole Christmas' by Dr. Seuss is shown every Christmas as an animated story with the voice of Boris Karloff as the narrator and it has also been made into a full-length movie starring Jim Carrey .
'One Snowy Night' by Nick Butterworth about Percy the Park Keeper tells a lovely story and is beautifully illustrated.
Famous Letters and Poems about Christmas
T'was the Night Before Christmas is one of the most famous poems about Christmas, while the letter written in response to Virginia O'Hanlon's question "Does Santa really exist?" is probably one of the most well-known Christmas letters.
Ten pieces of 'Christmas Story' trivia:
Did you know?
1. Tim Burton, the writer, artist, director, based 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' on a poem he wrote when he was a Disney animator in the early 1980s.
2. 'Yes, Virginia There Is A Santa Claus' was written by veteran newsman, Francis Pharcellus Church of New York's 'Sun' newspaper, Sept. 21, 1897, as a response to a letter from 8 year old Virginia O'Hanlon who wanted to know if Santa Claus exists because her friends were putting doubt in her mind.. It has become the most reprinted newspaper editorial of all time. (See the ' link list' above to read the letter to Virginia.)
3. Novelist, John Grisham, best known for his legal thrillers, wrote 'Skipping Christmas', a short, humourous novel about a couple that decide to go on a cruise rather that spend their money on all the trappings of Christmas and the funny result of their decision. The book inspired the movie, 'Christmas With The Kranks' starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Tim Allen and Dan Aykroyd.
4. The famous ballet, 'The Nutcracker', staged every Christmas, was based on a short story called, 'Nussknacker und Mausekonig' ('Nutcracker and the Mouseking' ) written by E.T.A. Hoffman, who lived from 1776 to 1822.
5. L. Frank Baum, famous for 'The Wizard Of Oz', also wrote two Christmas stories: 'The Life And Adventures of Santa Claus' in 1902 and 'A Kidnapped Santa Claus' in 1904 and there was a film based on this story called, 'Who Stole Santa?'.
6. The well-known carol, 'In The Bleak Mid-Winter', was inspired by a poem written by Christina Rosetti in 1872.
7. 'Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer' was written as a little booklet handed to children visiting Santa at the Montgomery Ward Department store in 1939. Robert May was in charge of the assignment and Johnny Marks, the songwriter, who happened to be May's brother-in-law, adapted it into the famous song which has become a Christmas standard.
8. Philip Van Doren Stern wrote a short story called, "The Greatest Gift" inspired by a dream. It was published in 'The Good Housekeeping Magazine' in Jan. 1945 under the title, "The Man Who Was Never Born" and it went on to become the inspiration for the movie, 'It's A Wonderful Life' starring James Stewart.
9. 'T'was The Night Before Christmas' was written in 1823 by the author, Clement Clark Moore although there are claims it was written by Major Henry Livingstone Jr. It was originally published anonymously because Clement Clark Moore was a serious writer and scholar who only wrote the poem as entertainment for his children. He, with influence from Washington Irving, created the Santa Claus as we know him today, riding in a sleigh and carrying presents to all the good children in the world on Christmas Eve. (See the poem in its entirety in the 'link list' section below)
10. In 1812, the author, Washington Irving wrote in his revisons of "A History Of New York" a dream sequence of St. Nicholas flying over the tree tops in a sort of wagon and Charles Dickens, a friend of his, credited Irving as having an influence on his own Christmas writings.
More Christmas Reading
If you need more inspiration
So, whether you buy your books in print form , upload them on your electronic reading device or you get your books from the library you wil find the following poems and books about Christmas, along with the ones I have already mentioned, well worth reading.
One of my favourite authors is Mrs. Dora Saint , better known as Miss Read , who created the wonderful Fairacre and Thrush Green Stories. . They are character-based stories which follow the day to day lives of inhabitants of these little villages. She also wrote, 'No Holly For Miss Quinn' (also the title of one of Enya's songs - sorry, more trivia) about a spinster who is asked by her brother to look after his three children while his wife is in hospital.
Jan Karon is a writer with the same kind of sensibility as Miss Read . She writes about Mitford . She has written a few Christmas books: 'Shepherd's Abiding' , 'A Mitford Christmas' , 'Esther's Gift' and 'The Mitford Snowmen' . To see a review of Jan Karon's Christmas books take a look at the lens by partybuzz on Squidoo .
'The Christmas Train' by David Baldacci is about riding the rails over the Christmas holidays from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles and how it can change your life.
'The Gift Of The Magi' by O'Henry is one of the best crafted short stories in the league of French short story writer Guy de Maupassant.
A newly married couple who can't afford to buy each other a gift at Christmas each come up with a unique way to raise some money. It is a touching heartfelt story. The story was featured in the 1952 movie, 'O'Henry's Full House', and to pass on more trivia, the film was narrated by John Steinbeck. It was also parodied in 'Christmas Eve On Sesame Street' by Bert and Ernie.
Dame Agatha Christie also got into the Christmas spirit by writing 'Hercule Poirot's Christmas', 'The Adventure Of The Christmas Pudding', and 'A Christmas Tragedy' .
'The Blue Carbuncle' a story from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's, 'The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes' is set at Christmastime.
The poets Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, William Wordsworth, Thomas Hardy, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Walter de la Mare, T.S. Eliot, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, all wrote Christmas-themed poems.
From 'Selected Shorter Poems of Thomas Hardy', chosen and introduced by John Wain, published by Macmillan, 1966.
The Oxen, 1915 celebrates the belief that animals take on human characteristics at midnight Christmas Eve.
'Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
Now they are all on their knees',
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek, mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
'Come; see the oxen kneel
'In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know',
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
If you have had enough of Christmas and want to read about a different view of the festive season have a look at Philip Larkin's, 'An Awful Time Of Year'. He writes in his Selected Letters of Philip Larkin, 1940-85:
'Have a happy Christmas. Drop laudanum on the children's plum pudding, for a happy Xmas afternoon,
Books about Christmas on Amazon - A wonderful Christmas gift for the book lover in your family.
On Amazon, you can purchase the aforementioned books about Christmas at a very reasonable price. As Christmas gifts go, you cannot get much better than a book!
My Favourite Christmas Films on Amazon
My Thankyou list
I have a wonderful book in my collection called , 'The Folio Book Of The English Christmas' published by Folio Society in 2002. The book contains a collection of seasonal writing selected by Geraldine Beare with illustrations by John Holder. I dipped into this tome many times to compose my lens.
I must acknowledge The Folio Society once again for the reproduction of two photographs from, 'A Christmas Carol' published by The Folio Society in 2003. The book was illustrated by Michael Forman . I used the picture gracing the front cover, and one from the inside cover, showing a Victorian street scene which are the property of Mr. Forman and were published in the Folio volume by arrangement with Penguin Books Ltd.
I used a photo from the front cover of Brian Wildsmith's book ' A Christmas Story' published by Oxford University Press in 1989.