Blog – Posted on Friday, Nov 29
The 40 Most Festive Christmas Books to Get You in the Holiday Spirit
Snow is falling, fires are crackling, the smell of gingerbread houses wafts through the air. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is being blared inside every merrily decorated department store. It can only mean one thing! Christmas is here.
Of course, half the joy of Christmas is curling up next to the hearth with a good book in hand. From The Polar Express to A Christmas Carol, Christmas books spread cheer and wisdom wherever they’re read. And luckily, there’s one for every Christmas occasion. Are you wondering, for instance, if the pudding you’re served at your big family reunion is poisoned? Then it’s Agatha Christie’s The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding to the rescue. Perhaps the weather forecasts are predicting the opposite of a white Christmas? No problem — here’s Ezra Jack Keats’ A Snowy Day to help you disappear into a world full of snow.
If you’re looking to pick up a little something to get yourself in the holiday spirit (or inspire you to treat every day like it's Christmas), we’ve got you covered with 40 of the best Christmas books. There’s something here for everyone, from the classics to the more obscure — but just as enjoyable. Happy reading, and Merry Christmas!
1. Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien
The father of modern fantasy might not be the first author that springs to mind when you think about the cheery Christmas books niche. But Tolkien deserves a place on the mantle with Letters from Father Christmas: a gorgeous collection of the notes that Tolkien (ahem, we mean “Father Christmas”) sent to his kids every Christmas.
As with Lord of the Rings, Tolkien delivers impressively. All of his creativity, meticulousness, and whimsy is on display in this book — from the story about the clumsy polar bear who accidentally falls through the roof of Father Christmas’ abode to the tale of the renegade reindeer scattering presents every which way. Beautifully crafted calligraphy and illustrations round out the book. Perhaps most poignantly, you’ll see the letters themselves changing as Tolkien’s children grow older: the themes become more serious and the notes take on a bittersweet tinge as his children stop writing back to “Father Christmas.” Nevertheless, this is a collection to savor, preferably with a mug of eggnog nearby.
2. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. This is the aching conceit at the center of The Polar Express, an endearing staple about Christmas joy, growing up, and the power of belief. Our protagonist, a young boy, wakes up on Christmas Eve to find a train waiting right outside his door. That train is called The Polar Express — and the North Pole is its destination.
Needless to say, The Polar Express is best enjoyed in a plush armchair, with a jolly fire going, and its audiobook accompaniment playing in the background. (Liam Neeson is your narrator in the audiobook, which is all that we need to say about that!) And know that you, too, can experience the thrill of a ride on The Polar Express through Chris Van Allsburg’s beautifully drawn illustrations, which put the “magic” in “magical.”
3. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
Is your childhood complete without a read of The Velveteen Rabbit, ending in an obligatory sobfest? It’s doubtful. Yet it doesn’t matter if you’re coming to this hallowed, time-worn story for the first or ninety-ninth time — Margery Williams Bianco’s The Velveteen Rabbit will surprise, enchant, and sweep you away with every reading. Don’t be fooled by its deceptively simple premise, which revolves around a stuffed rabbit’s desire to become real. That rabbit, who’s sewn from velveteen, is a Christmas present for a small boy — and this is its story. Bring tissues if you can!
4. Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
If you’re in need of some Christmas guffaws, Holidays on Ice is your god-sent answer. Published by beloved satirist and American treasure David Sedaris, it’s an essay collection that’s all about Christmas. But this isn’t any of your ordinary feel-good holiday fare: one of the stories, for instance, is about a Christmas that Sedaris spends rescuing a prostitute, while another recounts a regional Christmas pageant. The collection even contains the pivotal essay that first catapulted Sedaris to fame: “Santaland Diaries,” an uproarious account of his memorable stint as an elf at the Macy’s department store. At once dark, funny, and just slightly twisted, Sedaris might be the droller version of Santa Claus that you never knew you wanted — until now.
5. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
Welcome to the best Christmas pageant ever, where you can meet the worst kids ever! The Herdman siblings — Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie, and Gladys — are, put simply, shameless. There’s no infraction that doesn’t delight them, whether it’s blackmail, arson, or sometimes just plain physical violence (although it was just a little smack on the head, so Alice Wendelken should really just get over it already).
Now these pocket-sized minions are declaring their intentions to take over the annual Christmas pageant, and the other kids are understandably just a bit nervous. But if there’s anything to say about Christmas, it’s that miracles do take place — even in the midst of such shenanigans. Barbara Robinson’s bestselling gem is a must-read any time of the year, but especially around Christmas. You’ll giggle, you’ll whoop, and you’ll probably be crying by the time you reach its phenomenal, heart-stirring end.
6. A Christmas Carol and Other Stories by Charles Dickens
Even if you don’t know Charles Dickens, chances are that you probably will recognize Dickens’ A Christmas Carol — that’s the extent to which it’s synonymous with Christmas these days. Let’s run through it quickly, just in case you’re one of the few people not familiar with the story. Our protagonist is the fantastically named Ebenezer Scrooge, an old miser who detests Christmas. Suffice to say, he’s not the nicest of men.
One day, Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.
Thus begins a tale of transformation — and a moral makeover worthy of Queer Eye. And you’d get even more bang for your buck if you buy this particular edition of the story, as it includes a bunch of Dickens’ other Christmas stories! If you’re short on time, we particularly recommend reading “Christmas Dinner” — on top of, of course, A Christmas Carol.
7. Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie
Sick of mistletoe, carols, and repetitive Christmas songs? Are murder, wiles, and secrets more up your alley? Enter Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime. Her opportune Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is about (spoiler alert) Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. But here’s the plot twist: it’s not very merry. In fact, it’s downright dysfunctional, as a family reunion goes terribly wrong and ends in a gruesome murder. Of course, Poirot is called in — but this strange case, with its twists and shocking turns, will baffle even our great detective.
When Hercule Poirot’s Christmas was published in 1938, it was magnificently reviewed. Even if nothing seems certain in the story, one thing is apparent from the very beginning of the book: this is the Dame at the peak of her very formidable powers.
8. A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles M. Schulz
Ever think about why everyone actually celebrates Christmas? Or what’s really behind the incessant commercialization of so-called holiday spirit these days? Well, you’re not alone: Charlie Brown’s been wondering, too. In A Charlie Brown Christmas, he and the gang set out to investigate the true meaning of Christmas by way of a Christmas pageant. Even if you’re not a forever fan of Peanuts, you, too, will discover what Christmas is really all about in this cherished story.
9. Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection by Bill Watterson
Calvin’s embarked on many, many epic adventures in his short six years, both imagined and real. (Dinosaurs, outer space, and the constant escapes from a certain other six-year-old named Susie, anyone?) But perhaps none are quite as iconic as Calvin and Hobbes’ winter escapades. The snowball fights, sled rides, Calvin’s spectacular and increasingly creative trolling of the ‘rents in the snow — we could go on, but our space is short.
That’s why this compendium is such a gift: it contains many of Calvin and Hobbes’ most memorable winter strips. From Calvin’s monstrous snow goon creations to every philosophical winter stroll that he takes with Hobbes, they’re all in these pages for you to re-experience. Hilarious, fun, and touching as ever, it’s the best book to crack open beside the fireside as a snowstorm (which may or may not also be an attack from mutant aliens, perhaps?) rages outside.
10. "A Letter from Santa Claus" by Mark Twain
It might be short, but, on the plus side, it’ll get you into the Christmas spirit super quickly. In this short story, Mark Twain assumes yet another role — this time, impersonating Santa Claus. What’s at stake? Only the happiness of Twain’s three-year-old daughter, Suzy. The extent to which Twain cherished Suzy radiates through this letter, which is why this is an ideal piece to read aloud to children as everyone’s cozied up by the Christmas tree.
11. "The Little Match Girl" by Hans Christian Anderson
Hans Christian Andersen is famously known for writing some of the strangest, most twisted fairy tales of all time, with grisly deaths and gruesome disfigurations aplenty. But you needn’t be afraid of “The Little Match Girl”: the sole warning label that comes attached is that it’s a certified tearjerker that may just rip your heart out. The titular character is Andersen’s protagonist — a poor young girl who sells matches on New Year’s Eve, but who might not live through the bitterly cold night actually see the new year. Nearly two centuries since its publication, “The Little Match Girl” is still a classic that reminds us today of all of Christmas’ trademark themes: compassion, faith, and the possibility of salvation.
12. Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck and Mark Buehner
Acclaimed author Pearl S. Buck, the fourth female Nobel Laureate and winner of a Pulitzer Prize for The Good Earth, also penned a tiny story about gift-giving that will tug at all your heartstrings. First, meet Rob. He’s a very relatable boy as he’s struggling with one big problem: it’s Christmas, and he can’t afford to buy a gift for his dad.
What kind of present can he finally come up with? That’s for you to find out! Accompanied by the thoughtful, gorgeous illustrations of Mark Buehner, this is the book you’ll want to read if you’re short on gift ideas, but filled to the brim with Christmas generosity.
13. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
No words appear on any of the pages of The Snowman, but that doesn’t diminish the brilliance of this children’s masterpiece. It starts with a young boy who rushes outside at the first sign of snowfall to build a snowman. Little does the boy know that his creation will wake up in the middle of the night to carry the boy off to a magical adventure throughout the world…
It pretty much goes without saying that the illustrations in The Snowman are first-rate: rich, beautiful, and gentle, they tell the story of this boy and this snowman with dreamy care. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and The Snowman might just be the proof in the pudding.
14. "The Night Before Christmas" by Nikolai Gogol
For something a bit different, try this time-honored Ukrainian folktale by Nikolai Gogol. Whimsical and somewhat surreal (as the best folktales are), “The Night Before Christmas” is the story of a blacksmith named Vakula who’s trying to win the favor of the pretty Okhsana. Needless to say, that’s much easier said than done — especially when witches, wizards who eat floating dumplings, and Czarinas get thrown into the mix! Best read out loud to children on Christmas Eve (which is already a storytelling tradition every year in Russia and Ukraine).
15. Merry Christmas, Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
If you’re not familiar with the very charming Strega Nona series, we’ve got you. Here’s a quick rundown of the first installment: Strega Nona’s an Italian witch doctor who aids fellow villagers with an assortment of miscellaneous problems (such as warts). One day, she takes on a young man named Big Anthony as an assistant, which rapidly becomes a problem for her: Big Anthony is, well, just a bit bumbling. Told expressly not to touch the magic pasta pot, he does exactly that and nearly causes the entire village to flood with pasta (which wouldn’t be the worst death, we’ll be the first to admit).
Of course, Strega Nona saves the day, and everyone survives to tell that tale — and many more tales, if Merry Christmas, Strega Nona is any indication! In this installment of the series, Strega Nona gets a big surprise from the townspeople and Big Anthony, just in time for Christmas. Wonderfully unusual, colorful, and touching, Merry Christmas, Strega Nona is the perfect encapsulation of everything that makes the Strega Nona series so magical.
16. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Everyone dreams of the perfect Christmas week, which typically involves two must-haves: hordes of presents (preferably all made of gold), and lots of snow. But if Christmas Day is fast approaching and the weather forecast is indicating that the ground will remain stubbornly green, what can you do?
Well, you can turn to The Snowy Day, for one. Ezra Jack Keats is the king of wish fulfillment, as he delivers a exquisitely-rendered tale of one winter day. This is the story of the season’s first snowfall, and a boy’s simple joy at experiencing it. Give it a read, and you’ll find that it’s sure to affect even the most cynical of Grinches.
17. A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd
For many households across the United States, it’s not Christmas until everyone gathers around the television and re-watches the all-time classic Yuletide movie, A Christmas Story. But you’re missing out if you’re a fan of the movie and haven’t read the book it’s based upon. Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story is a collection of wonderful autobiographically-tinged short stories — most, if not all, featuring the shenanigans of Ralphie Parker’s wacky family. It’s one of those books that’s even better than the film: Shepherd’s wit resonates on every page, along with the goodwill that Christmas inevitably brings to all.
18. The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter
In The Tailor of Gloucester, we meet a poor tailor who falls ill before he can finish a waistcoat commissioned by the mayor. But who’s there to save the day? Why, the mice, obviously — and maybe even a grumpy old cat named Simpkin. This is the ultimate feel-good story, great for getting your spirits up just in time for Christmas. And if you need the ultimate stamp of approval, Beatrix Potter’s previously stated that this is her personal favorite book out of all the books that she’s written, too.
19. "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote
In another edition of “Authors Who You Probably Didn’t Realize Were Capable Of Coming Up With A Christmas Story,” we have “A Christmas Memory,” written by Truman Capote — the famous author of the true crime classic, In Cold Blood.
Yet this short story might just be the polar opposite of In Cold Blood, as Capote tones down the murders and ups the warmth. Set in the Great Depression, “Buddy” (or Capote, since this short story is autobiographical) is best friends with his elderly female cousin. Their challenge: to make fruitcakes for thirty people for Christmas. They’ve got no money and no ingredients for baking, but they do have a whole lot of love for each other and the holiday. The result is one of the sweetest Christmas stories you’ll find, and it’s worth the read just for this apropos sentence alone: “Oh my, it’s fruitcake weather!”
20. The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie
Christmas is the time for armchairs, which means that it’s the ideal season to be an armchair detective! Joining you will be both Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple, which is part of the greatness of The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding: it contains short stories from both of Agatha Christie’s most beloved detectives. (Note that only “The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding” is Christmas-flavored — but Christie is so good that all of these stories can be treated as a cause for celebration.)
21. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss
This children’s classic is the perfect Christmas treat for those who like their heartwarming tales served with a helping of rhyme. Think of this Dr. Seuss hit as A Christmas Carol for fans of The Cat in the Hat: the cave-dwelling Grinch, with his undersized heart, gives Ebeneezer Scrooge a run for his long-hoarded money as literature’s best-known holiday grump.
To put it mildly, the scowling, scheming Grinch has never liked Christmas. Too bad he lives within earshot of Whoville, where the happy-go-lucky Whos insist on singing and bustling and making all kinds of noise — all through the holiday season. Fed up with their festivities, the Grinch cooks up a plan to quiet them down: he’ll dress up as Santa, strong-arm his loyal pooch into playing reindeer, and make his way down to the Whos to steal the Christmas right from under their merrymaking noses. Needless to say, the Grinch’s holiday heist won’t exactly go as planned. But it will make your heart grow three sizes larger.
22. Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle
A holiday tale as innovative as it is enchanting, Let It Snow is a YA romance in three parts, written by three genre masters: New York Times bestseller Maureen Johnson, The Fault in Our Stars’ John Green, and — last but not least — Lauren Myracle of ttyl fame. Marshaling all their imagination and verve, this dynamic trio braids together three separately short stories to create a single, delightfully cozy reading experience. And if the book isn’t enough, its charming Netflix adaptation is also on hand to tug at your heartstrings.
When a huge Christmas Eve storm blankets Gracetown in snow, three pairs of teens find themselves drawn together. Jubilee, on her way to her grandparents’ Florida home, finds her train stranded mid-journey by the snowstorm. When she runs into Stuart, the Gracetown native invites her to spend the evening with his family. Meanwhile, Tobin and the Duke — not an aristocrat, but a tomboy whose real name is Angie — find their long-running friendship destabilized by a snow-induced car crash and an awkward encounter at Waffle House. Will their old camaraderie evolve into something more? Finally, Addie, reeling from a recent breakup, gets a message from her ex, Jeb — delivered by none other than Tobin!
23. Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman
No matter what the holiday, it’s always fun to celebrate with Bear! This Christmas, the sleepy furball’s friends are determined to keep him busy with tree-picking, treat-baking, and Christmas caroling — even though he’d rather be snoring. But Bear stays up even after all the other animals have hit the hay, taking advantage of his wakefulness to prepare surprise presents to all his slumbering friends. But it looks like Bear himself has a surprise in store: who’s gone and filled up his stockings while he was out?
Between Karma Wilson’s infectious rhymes and Jane Chapman’s plush, downright huggable illustrations, this is a picture book you’ll want to revisit every year — even after your little ones have left the nest.
24. The Nutcracker by by Valeria Docampo and the New York City Ballet
As soon as the trick-or-treaters fold up their costumes, you’re liable to start hearing the tell-tale, tinkling tones of “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” It’s the silvery anthem of the holiday season, and the Nutcracker ballet it comes from is as much a part of Christmas as reindeers and tree-trimming. Experience this classic story of childhood wonder, dreams, and transformation anew with this lavishly illustrated book, which brings the New York City Ballet’s celebrated Nutcracker production to you.
At the Stahlbaums’ house, Marie and her brother Fritz are getting ready for the annual holiday party when Herr Drosselmeier sweeps in. A brilliant toymaker, he’s also Marie’s beloved godfather, and he’s got a surprise for her: a nutcracker shaped like a soldier. But what happens when a jealous Fritz smashes it to pieces? With whimsical drawings that capture The Nutcracker’s iconic choreography, this gorgeous picture book is the next best thing to snagging an orchestra seat at the ballet.
25. A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig and Chris Mould
Before he became Father Christmas, he was just a Finnish boy named Nikolas, son of a widowed father and proud owner of a doll made from a turnip — the only toy he’s ever owned. Nikolas’s life might have had its share of hardships, but he was happy, playing with his turnip doll and spending time with his loving papa. But one day, his father goes missing in search of the fabled elves, leaving Nikolas alone with his wicked Aunt Carlotta. Can the brave young boy find him before it’s too late?
What follows is a warm but razor-witted tale of flying reindeer, exploding trolls, and courage in the face of cruelty — all delivered with British charm and enough Snicket-y snark to keep the most cynical preteen enthralled. Meanwhile, Mould’s lively, black-and-white illustrations offer fairytale whimsy with a bit of old-school, Brothers Grimm-ish bite. Trust us: you’ve never seen Santa’s story told quite like this.
26. One Day in December by Josie Silver
This sweet seasonal romance is sure to sweep you off your feet. After all, it managed to snag the coveted top spot on the New York Times bestsellers list and charm the stockings off Reese Witherspoon, who named it one of her book club picks. If you want your love stories to be as much about second… and third… and tenth chances as they are about love at first sight, this is the perfect book to cozy up to this holiday season.
One day in December, Laurie locks eyes with a man on the street as she’s riding the bus through London. She’s not the type to believe in hokey romantic myths, but there’s no denying she felt something the moment their gazes met — and she’s pretty sure he did, too. Too bad her bus drives away a moment later! When Laurie finally runs into her mystery man again, it’s at a Christmas party — and he’s her best friend’s new boyfriend. But she just can’t get him out of her head…
27. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum
Just two years after he published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the zanily brilliant L. Frank Baum tried his hand at bringing Santa’s story to life. His take on our favorite red-clad gift-giver might be more than a century old, but it holds up beautifully — tackling everything from Santa’s enchanted childhood to his reindeer selection process with Oz-like imagination.
If you’ve ever wondered why Old St. Nick prefers to enter houses via chimney, or exactly how he stays on schedule every Christmas Eve, Baum’s got you covered! At a slim 176 pages, his version is an easy, magical read that’s sure to delight readers of all ages with its lively prose and colorful cast. After all, you’re never too old for a little Christmas magic.
28. The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern
Here’s the story behind one of the greatest holiday movies of all time. It’s a Wonderful Life came out in 1946, and it’s been making Christmas-time viewers smile — and cry — ever since. But how many of its dedicated fans have read the short story it’s based on?
When Philip Van Doren Stern wrote “The Greatest Gift” back in 1939, he had no idea it would inspire an Oscar-nominated classic. In fact, he couldn’t even get anyone to publish it. Maybe the presses he contacted thought it was just too dark for the holidays — after all, the story stars a depressed man who contemplates suicide, until his guardian angel gives him a glimpse of all the ways he’s made life wonderful for his loved ones. Undeterred by rejection, Stern had the story printed himself and sent it out as a holiday card. Luckily, we can read it today in this beautiful, illustrated edition.
29. The Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore and Charles Santore
’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house / Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse
If you’re like us, just hearing these two lines will transport you back to the wintry wonders of your childhood: when the tree was trimmed, the cocoa hot, and Santa Claus sure to arrive with his sack of gifts. This children’s classic is a sweet candy cane of a poem, as synonymous with holiday cheer as the stockings and sugar-plums that appear in its pages. Though first published anonymously in 1823, The Night Before Christmas was a story that Moore had been reciting to his children long before. And almost two centuries later, we’re still reading it to our children.
30. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry and P. J. Lynch
A master of short fiction, the inimitable O. Henry is famed for his twisty endings and witty prose. Among the works that made his name, “The Gift of the Magi” stands out. It’s a gorgeous confection of a story, combining the sticky sweetness of sentimental with the sharp spice of dramatic irony.
Della and her husband James might not have much in the way of money, but they’re rich in love. As Christmas approaches, the young couple scramble to find presents they deem worthy of one another. Ultimately, both Della and James both sacrifice their most prized possessions to buy gifts for each other — leading to a Christmas morning that’s full of surprises. Chances are, you already know how this one ends, but just in case, we won’t spoil it. Either way, it’s the perfect time to discover — or rediscover — The Gift of the Magi, alongside Lynch’s elegant, nostalgic illustrations.
31. A Merry Christmas and Other Christmas Stories by Louisa May Alcott
If you’ve ever wanted to spend the holidays with the Marches, you’re in luck! In Louisa May Alcott’s collection of holiday tales, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy from Little Women wake up on Christmas morning to find little books under their pillow — a surprise from their beloved Marmee. Their father might be off fighting in the Civil War, but they can still spend the holidays wrapped in the warmth of family.
The other stories in Alcott’s collection are just as rich in 19th-century wholesomeness. Boardinghouse residents come together to give two poor girls the celebration they deserve, a lovable horse is gifted with the (temporary) ability to speak, and a rich old woman discovers the true meaning of Christmas. If you want some reading material that’s as cozy as a holiday sweater and as warm as apple cider, you’re in for a treat!
32. The Christmas Shoes by Donna VanLiere
Robert is a workaholic lawyer whose marriage is on its last legs — and whose daughters barely know his face. Nathan is an eight-year-old whose beloved mother is about to lose her battle with cancer. On Christmas Eve, serendipity brings the two together. While catching up on his neglected holiday shopping, Robert runs into Nathan, who’s trying to buy a pair of shoes for his mom — a goodbye present. The 8-year-old might not be able to afford the gift, but the lawyer sure can! It turns out, there is one thing that only Robert and Nathan can give each other: hope.
VanLiere’s debut novel makes no secret of its quest to tug on every heartstring in your circulatory system: we recommend reading this one with a box of tissues on hand. If you’re in the mood for a holiday tearjerker that’ll have you reflecting on the true meaning of the holidays, The Christmas Shoes is sure to hit the spot.
33. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski and P. J. Lynch
A gorgeous picture book with remarkable emotional depth, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey is a modern classic. The people of the valley know the titular Jonathan as the best woodcarver in the village, but they’ve never seen him so much as crack a smile. No wonder the kids all call him Mr. Gloomy. But there’s a reason behind his sadness: Jonathan is still grieving for the wife and son he lost to illness, long before he moved into the village.
But one day, a widow and her little boy come to him with a special commission: a nativity set to replace an heirloom they lost in their own move to the village. There’s no replacing the wife and son he lost. But can this other family start to heal Jonathan’s heart?
34. The 13th Gift by Joanne Huist Smith
This feel-good memoir is the grown-up’s answer to How the Grinch Stole Christmas: a holiday tale sure to make your heart grow three sizes larger. With her grief still fresh, Joanne Huist Smith, a young widow, still wants to make the holidays special for her three young children. But her husband passed away just a few months ago, and there’s no denying that all four of them as still reeling from the loss.
Their season takes a turn when the Smiths start waking up to a series of anonymous gifts left at their doorstep — one for each of the twelve days of Christmas. Who are these “True Friends” determined to make their holidays special? And can the Smiths celebrate even in the midst of their grief?
35. The Berenstain Bears' Christmas Tree by Stan and Jan Berenstain and Mike Berenstain
This furry family of five has been delighting budding bookworms for over half a century. This year, come celebrate the Christmas season with the Berenstains over in Bear Country! You’ll find Papa Bear trying his best to find the perfect tree to decorate with his cubs. There’s only one problem: every promising pine he comes across seems to be occupied, whether it’s got a squirrel in its hollow or a nest in its branches.
Papa, Brother, and Sister might be excited to decorate for the holidays, but they’re not about to make their new friends homeless! After all, Christmas isn’t about the tree you celebrate around — it’s about who you celebrate with!
36. The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats
One of the first children’s book authors to write minority protagonists, the late, great Ezra Jack Keats was ahead of his time. His celebrated The Snowy Day, mentioned above, came out in 1962 and stars a young boy named Peter: the first African American to appear as a main character in a full-color picture book. “My book,” Keats noted, “would have him there simply because he should have been there all along.”
In The Little Drummer Boy, he brings this characteristic sensitivity and simple, elegant storytelling to a classic Christmas carol: the song of a poor boy summoned by the three wise men to witness the birth of Christ. In Keats’ evocative illustrations, both the little drummer boy and the Magi appear in historically accurate guises, bringing the classic tune to new, colorful life.
37. The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle by Arthur Conan Doyle
Agatha Christie isn’t the only mystery maven to put an iconic character through his paces during the holiday season: Sherlock Holmes’ creator gets in on the action too! The famed consulting detective spends Christmas puzzling over a precious gem — the titular Blue Carbuncle — that was found inside a Christmas goose.
The bird was a gift, of sorts, from the commissionaire Peterson. Left on the scene of a street-side tussle alongside a worn old hat, it’s come to Holmes as another case to unravel, just in time for the holidays. Now, there is a name-tag on the goose. But that — and the hat — are Holmes’ only clues as to where (and to whom) the priceless Blue Carbuncle belongs. But surely the detective and his friend Watson are up to the task…. right?
38. The Christmas Train by David Baldacci
When it comes to suspense, David Baldacci is one of the biggest names in the game. His books thrill with traumatic brain injuries, million-dollar scams, and Secret Service agents committing murder to cover up presidential affairs. If you see his name on the cover of something called The Christmas Train, you might expect that train to be full of sleeper agents and mob bosses, each determined to ruin the holidays unless the CIA can stop them in time. But don’t worry — this isn’t that kind of book.
Tom Langdon, a globetrotting journalist, is racing against the clock, but he’s not trying to uncover a den of enemy operatives or defuse a bomb — he just has to get from Washington to Los Angeles in time for Christmas to spend some quality time with his actress girlfriend. And that means hopping on a train full of quirky people, every one of them carrying baggage — literal and figurative — of their own. The Christmas Train is a Hallmark-worthy tale of everyday miracles and second chances. Best of all, there are no grisly murders in sight!
39. The Usual Santas: A Soho Crime Holiday Anthology
If you never thought a collection of crime stories could be charming, then clearly you haven’t read The Usual Santas! A holiday special put out by the beloved indie imprint Soho Crime, this 18-story anthology runs the spectrum from the plushest of cozies to the darkest of noir. But none of these stories are likely to give you nightmares — after all, they’re all tied together by the spirit of the season.
The Usual Santas has quite a unique spin: it includes tantalizing glimpses of our favorite characters, literary and historical. Some of them are making their debuts in the mystery genre, while others are old hands at all things crime-solving. Jane Austen, for instance, finds herself pressed into service as an amateur detective as she hunts for a duchess’s purloined games. (Holmes’s old adversary Irene Adler, meanwhile, makes an appearance in Paris as a spy.)
40. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Robert L. May and Antonio Javier Caparo
Did you know that everyone’s favorite red-nosed reindeer was dreamt up by a copywriter in 1939? Robert L. May was working for Montgomery Ward, the department store, when he got a special holiday assignment: create a Christmas-themed coloring book that the store could give out. May drew inspiration from his daughter’s love of reindeer and the view of fog seen from his office window. He pictured a bright light cutting through it “like a spotlight”: a light from a little reindeer’s shiny red nose. The rest, as they say, is history.
Eighty years later, Rudolph is one of the most beloved holiday characters around. We bet you can hear his song playing in your head right now! Revisit his self-confidence glow-up — pun intended — with Caparo’s adorable, lively illustrations, and you’ll be inspired to have the best Christmas ever.
Not ready to leave your cozy reading nook by the fireplace? Keep sipping that cocoa and check out our favorite 50 Christmas stories! Or if you're looking to entertain the little ones, we have a whole list devoted just to Christmas books for kids.