It’s the most wonderful time of the year — to bury yourself in a good book, that is. With the winter winds howling and the fire crackling, there’s no better season to just curl up and read the day away. And what’s nicer to read about during the holidays than Christmas itself? Here are 50 Christmas stories for the season that will make your heart grow three sizes today.
1. “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore
The most classic holiday tale of all time to start off your Christmas read-a-thon. From visions of sugarplums to Santa’s cherry-red nose, the imagery in this poem just can’t be beat. Don’t forget to really bellow that last line: “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
2. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
A cranky old man, an impoverished family, and a trio of time-and-space-traveling ghosts — three ingredients for a perfect Christmas story. Even if you start off saying “bah humbug,” the end of A Christmas Carol will leave you as joyful as the Cratchit family and their gigantic turkey (as will most of Dickens' works).
3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
“All the Whos down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot… but the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did not.” Our green and grouchy antihero attempts to ruin Christmas for the Whos — only to find that the true spirit of Christmas is not as capitalistic as he thought.
4. “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry
That awkward moment when you sell your hair to buy your husband a watch chain, but he sells his watch to buy you some fancy combs. Despite losing their most valued possessions, the husband and wife in this story realize that their mutual sacrifice signifies a much greater gift: their eternal love and devotion to one another.
5. The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffmann
This magical tale of toys come to life is perfect for anyone who wants to relive their childhood fantasy (of killing an evil mouse king, that is.) Young Marie Stahlbaum receives a nutcracker that inducts her into a secret world of bitter doll-versus-mouse warfare — a world of passion, rivalry, and romance that later served as the basis for Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet.
6. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
If you loved the Tom-Hanks-led adaptation, you’ll love the original even more, with its dreamlike story and detailed illustrations. One dark and snowy Christmas Eve, our young narrator boards the Polar Express and is whisked away to the North Pole… where he’ll get to meet the very red-coated, jelly-bellied man who makes all Christmas wishes come true.
7. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
Best known for its TV adaptation (featuring an intro by David Bowie), The Snowman remains one of Britain’s favorite Christmas stories. This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of a young boy whose snowman comes to life one night, taking him on a magical journey across the world. It’s sweet and funny, and has an ending that still packs an emotional punch 40 years on.
8. Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
On Hogswatchnight, the good children of Ankh-Morpork eagerly await a visit from the Hogfather, who brings them sausages and toys under cover of darkness. But when a faction of evil bureaucrats dispatch an assassin to take out the Hogfather, it’s up to Death himself to save the day by dressing up as the merry old man.
9. Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris
Equal parts hilarious and sincere, Sedaris’ supposedly autobiographical account of working as a department store elf is a holiday tale for the jaded among us. From breaking up fistfights to informing children of Santa’s truly nefarious nature, the misadventures of Sedaris’ alter-ego “Crumpet the Elf” provide a refreshing reminder that it’s sometimes okay to just want the holiday season over already.
10. Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien
This published volume of Tolkien’s annual Christmas letters to his children has since become just as well-loved by the general public. In Tolkien’s letters, “Father Christmas” and his elven secretary spin tales of mischievous polar bears, present-wrapping mishaps, and the spectacular Northern Lights, all of which are sure to please young and old readers alike.
11. “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” by Hans Christian Andersen
The titular soldier falls in love with a paper ballerina, but a jealous goblin conspires to keep them apart. This children’s fairy tale nevertheless contains a profound message about never giving up on love, even when all seems to be lost.
12. Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck
Another lushly illustrated story, this one follows a father and son who discover that the best Christmas gifts are not always tangible. 15-year-old Rob gets up early on Christmas to do his father’s work on their farm — and when his father realizes what Rob has done for him, his reaction will overwhelm you in the best way possible.
13. The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
When the priceless “Blue Carbuncle” jewel is stolen, who better to solve the case than esteemed detective Sherlock Holmes? However, as Holmes and Watson begin to untangle the question of who stole the carbuncle, they find that this grand holiday mystery — which of course centers around a Christmas goose — only grows more intriguing.
14. Stick Man by Julia Donaldson
In this book, Stick Man faces an age-old quandary: will he be home in time for Christmas? Between an over-enthusiastic dog and a nest-building swan, Stick Man’s prospects aren’t looking too good… that is, until he meets a friend with a magical sleigh who can fly him anywhere he wants.
15. The Box Of Delights by John Masefield
This children’s fantasy novel no doubt lives up to its name: it’s the enchanting adventure of Kay Harker, a boy who discovers a “box of delights” on his train home from boarding school. Upon realizing that both he and the box are endangered by an evil magician, Kay embarks on a journey through time and space to save his life, his friends, and indeed Christmas itself.
16. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
No matter how many times you’ve read it, this one is always worth revisiting around Christmastime. From snowy tea time with Mr Tumnus to the mystical figure of Aslan, C.S. Lewis’ classic novel is a perfect little slice of holiday magic.
17. The Gift by Cecelia Ahern
From the author of P.S. I Love You comes this modern-day fable. Lou is a man whose busy schedule is putting a strain on his family life. One winter, he meets a strange homeless man outside his office — and decides to help him turn his fortunes around. Compared by critics to A Christmas Carol, this book is perfect for a lazy holiday read by the fire.
18. “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen
It’s best known for being loosely adapted into Frozen, but this fairy tale has long been a staple of Christmas anthologies. The Snow Queen tells the tale of children Kai and Gerda, who are warned by Kai’s grandmother about the Snow Queen, a powerful being who eventually captures and corrupts Kai. When Gerda finds him at last, he has turned into a cold, cruel facsimile of himself — but she manages to save him by using (what else?) the power of love and warmth.
19. “The Twelve Terrors Of Christmas” by John Updike
In this Santaland-esque satire, Updike notes the many sketchy, shady, and simply strange aspects of the holiday season. For instance, Santa Claus — what does he do those other 11 months of the year? Combined with the Gothic drawings of Edward Gorey, this darkly comedic pamphlet will get you seriously thinking (and drinking away the discomfort) this Christmas season.
20. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Though Alcott’s book spans several years, the defining moments of the girls’ lives tend to happen on December 25th: it’s the day their story begins, and also the joyous occasion of their father’s return from war. So yes, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are no doubt the queens of Christmas — but their stories will warm your heart any day of the year.
21. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
The Belgian supersleuth can’t seem to catch a break, not even at the most wonderful time of the year. Called to investigate the murder of a millionaire, he’s faced with solving a mystery involving a locked room, secret illegitimate children, and a bounty of uncut diamonds.
22. “The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Andersen
Hans Christian Andersen strikes again in one of his most famous (and devastating) works. The frail little match girl struggles to sell matches on New Year’s Eve, then starts lighting them to try and warm herself. She has grand, golden visions of Christmas trees and a savory feast — and when she finally runs out of matches and freezes to death, her grandmother’s spirit helps her ascend to heaven, while the rest of us sob into our eggnog.
23. Skipping Christmas by John Grisham
The undisputed King of Legal Thrillers turns his hand to writing a comedy of errors in this 2001 novel that features precisely zero jurors or murderers. When empty-nest couple Luther and Nora decide to save money by “skipping Christmas” and the cost of decking out their home, they incur the ire of their neighbors, who are hell-bent on winning a seasonal decoration contest.
24. “A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote
Capote’s lifelike Christmas tale follows a young boy named Buddy and his cousin in their holiday escapades — making fruitcakes and drinking whiskey, cutting down an enormous tree, and exchanging homemade gifts. Even though their family is poor and the cousins are far apart in age, they revel in the pure joy of the Christmas season… and Buddy never forgets this particular Christmas, especially after he and his cousin lose touch.
Depicting the immaculate conception and the birth of Christ, this is the telling of the Nativity that most Christians know and love. Available in most hotel rooms in the US, thanks to the Gideons.
26. Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs
This breakout entry from Britain’s Christmas laureate re-imagines Santa Claus as a curmudgeonly widower from the North of England. Set over the course of Christmas Eve, this illustrated book charts both his magical and mundane hijinks, from breaking into Buckingham Palace to downing a bottle of brandy by his fireplace.
27. “Christmas Day in the Workhouse” by George Robert Sims
Readers of Charles Dickens will already have a pretty good idea of how grim working class conditions were in industrial Britain. In this satirical poem, Sims tells the story of an old man in a home for the poor, recalling the tragedy that befell his wife last Christmas. And George Michael thought he had it bad!
28. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
Not only is this the best Harry Potter installment (in our totally unbiased opinion), it’s also the one that makes the most of Christmas at Hogwarts — with the added drama of the Triwizard Tournament’s traditional Yule Ball. From laughing at Ron’s robes to gasping at the twist of Hermione and Krum, not to mention all the intrigue surrounding Karkaroff and Snape, the Yule Ball section of Goblet of Fire is simply an iconic bit of literature.
29. Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
This collection follows merrily in the vein of Gibbons’ original parody. In the title story, the local reverend is “spiritually guided” to the Starkadders’ farm after seeing a crate of wine being delivered, only to find the atmosphere a bit less than jolly — with the Starkadders soon to share their classic “Christmas pudding” of coffin nails and bad sixpences. Needless to say, these eccentric characters (made even more so by the holiday season) are sure to put a smile on your face.
30. “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern
Christmas day, 1943. A man contemplates suicide and wishes he had never been born — only to have the wish seemingly granted. The man then finds that almost everyone he knows is worse off without him, and returns to his old life full of fresh perspective. For those who think this plot sounds familiar, it’s because Stern’s modest little Christmas story eventually became the basis for Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life!
31. “Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor” by John Cheever
Charlie the elevator operator is feeling sorry for himself on Christmas morning: he’s poor, he’s lonely, and to add insult to injury, he has to work. But after complaining about his plight to the rich tenants of the building, Charlie find himself invited to more holiday parties than he can handle, and ultimately realizes that he should’ve been careful what he wished for — sort of like in It’s a Wonderful Life, but with a less positive ending. Classic Cheever.
32. “Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story” by Paul Auster
Paul Auster has no idea what to write for the New York Times at Christmas. That is, until he runs into his friend Auggie Wren, who regales him with a holiday tale he’ll never forget. This story-within-a-story is a clever, meta commentary on the sentimentality and morality we expect from Christmas lore, even though real life is rarely so neatly packaged.
33. Miracle On 34th Street by Valentine Davies
Another quintessential Christmas movie that began as a story! Though you might be skeptical of this department store Santa at first, old “Kris” will warm your heart and win you over with his antics. But can he convince a courtroom in his favor, too?
34. The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder
This Norwegian children’s novel has a storytelling advent calendar, a toy lamb come to life, and a girl named Elisabet who hasn’t been seen in years — or has she? Follow our young hero Joachim as he dives into mystery of the advent calendar and the missing Elisabet, who just might be closer than he thinks.
35. “Mother Christmas” by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl’s holiday poem “Mother Christmas” is a cute, funny, and surprisingly feminist tribute to its eponymous figure. Also, clocking in at just three stanzas, it’s probably the easiest read on this list!
36. Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
Though you can’t beat the Charlie Brown Christmas special, Calvin and Hobbes is the best comic to actually read this time of the year. From Calvin’s ruminations on what it means to be “good” to Watterson’s blatant lambasting of holiday consumerism, this strip will always leave you laughing — and sometimes tearing up a bit — at the escapades of its titular heroes.
37. At Christmas Time by Anton Chekhov
Nothing like some dense Russian prose to keep you warm this winter. At Christmas Time is actually a very touching story of familial love: young Yefimya has married and moved away, but her parents are illiterate and cannot write to her, though they miss her desperately. So when Christmas comes, they hire a scribe to write for them — and when Yefimya receives their letter, she weeps with uncontained sorrow and joy.
38. The Burglar's Christmas by Willa Cather
This vivid story details the Christmas Eve of a young Chicago man as he roams the streets, starving and searching for some way to get money or food. Frustrated after missing the chance to burgle a young woman, he decides to rob a grand mansion house… but what (or rather who) he finds inside stops him dead in his tracks.
39. Sharpe's Christmas by Bernard Cornwell
It’s Christmas 1813 and Sean Bean Major Sharpe is fighting Napoleon’s forces in the North of Spain. Under orders to prevent a garrison of enemy soldiers, women, and children from escaping back over the border, Sharpe’s situation is made trickier when he realizes that the French regiment is led by his old friend, Colonel Caillou.
40. "The Beggar Boy at Christ's Christmas Tree" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Dostoyevsky’s answer to “The Little Match Girl” is another serious tearjerker. A small child wanders through an unfamiliar city by himself, bereft of his mother and rejected by everyone he meets. Suddenly he feels warm despite the bitter frost outside, and is welcomed to “Christ's Christmas tree” — which, of course, is another metaphor for heaven.
41. “Fish Cheeks” by Amy Tan
The Joy Luck Club author paints a one-page vignette of her childhood, describing her embarrassment at her family’s traditional Chinese meal on Christmas Eve. It’s a lovely, short piece that captures many of the growing pains felt by first-generation immigrants.
42. “The Three Kings” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Best known for “Paul Revere's Ride,” Longfellow also wrote another poem charting a different momentous voyage. As a retelling of the story of the magi, it certainly beats the dull lyrics of “We Three Kings” — which, as we know, can only be made better with a camel tow.
43. “The Fir-Tree” by Hans Christian Andersen
Our final entry from Andersen is the poignant story of a fir tree throughout its life. When the tree is young, it’s so eager to grow that it can’t appreciate its youth, only to be cut down and carted off when it’s still small. The fir tree is decorated and observes Christmas festivities, but little does it know that this will be the end of its service; in effect, its life ends before it can really begin, making this a typical bittersweet Andersen story.
44. “Little Piccola” by Nora Smith
Little Piccola lives in Italy, and her Christmas is not one of snowfall and Santa Claus, but of warm sun and orange groves. Despite the beautiful weather, Piccola yearns for a true Christmas after she hears the local Americans talking about it. So she leaves a shoe (instead of a stocking) by her fireplace — and what appears in it is a surprising delight for both Little Piccola and the reader.
45. “The Other Wise Man” by Henry van Dyke
Did you know there was a fourth Wise Man? Well, according to Henry van Dyke, at least — but he stopped to help a dying man and missed Jesus’ birth altogether. Nevertheless, this other wise man still believes it’s his destiny to meet the Son of God, and spends the next 30 years searching for Jesus, performing acts of kindness along the way. That is, until he finally realizes it’s not who you’ve met, but who you are that really counts.
46. Arthur’s Christmas by Marc Brown
It’s a wonderful kind of day for Arthur and D.W. when Christmas rolls around again. But our favorite fictional aardvarks also have a dilemma: what should they get for Santa? D.W. is more preoccupied with her own Christmas wish list, but Arthur is determined to find the perfect gift for the Claus who has everything — no matter what it takes.
47. The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola
The acclaimed author of Strega Nona turns his hand to holiday tales with this picture book. It’s a sweet story of what the poinsettia — or flor de la Nochebuena, meaning “flower of Christmas Eve” — signifies to Mexican families, and how the spirit of Christmas is encapsulated in its bright red petals.
48. Madeline’s Christmas by Ludwig Bemelmans
Madeline’s Christmas turns into chore-mas when all the other girls fall ill and she has to play nurse. Luckily, Madeline has someone looking out for her: a mysterious (and magical) benefactor who might be able to save Christmas after all.
49. Olive, the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh
Olive may be a Jack Russell Terrier, but she knows her purpose: to fly in the sky and help pull Santa’s sleigh (why else would her name be in the song?). Olive’s presence inevitably causes some confusion among her “fellow” reindeer. But when Santa runs into trouble on his deliveries, it’s this little terrier’s time to shine.
50. A Die Hard Christmas by Doogie Horner
What would Christmas be without the parable of the East German terrorist and his quest for bearer bonds? In this illustrated version of the classic action film, the seasonal story of NYPD cop John McClane is rendered in verse as a parody of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” — an appropriate bookend to this list, no?