My family was one that did bedtime stories. When we were older, we had a set bed time and the half hour following was reading time should we want it. One of our Christmas Eve traditions was to light the candles, turn the tree lights on, have hot chocolate or some other drink (I particularly like spiced apple juice) and maybe lebkuchen. Then we’d get out the Christmas books.
Those I remember were How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Round the Back!, The Christmas Mouse, and a pop-up lift-the-flaps book of The Night Before Christmas. These days, we tend to watch A Muppet Christmas Carol and sometimes The Hogfather or The Grinch (Jim Carey version) but I still have soft spot for Christmas stories at this time of year. I always end up reading at least one but it can be hard to find books that aren’t mind-numbing and Hallmark-y. I like light reading from time to time but even light reading needs to have some substance to it. And so, for your reading pleasure, I have curated a list of five great books to read around the Christmas period.
JESUS’ CHRISTMAS PARTY
Granted, this is a children’s book but I’ve always loved it. The poor innkeeper just wants to sleep but a couple turn up at his door. Then a bunch of angels. Then a bunch of shepherds. Then three kings. Every time he grows more and more annoyed, desperate to go back to bed, and every time he tells them (with increasing frustration that the person they’re looking for is round the back.
Eventually, he settles but then the hullabaloo of angels singing wakes him and he gets so mad he goes downstairs (and round the back) to find out what on earth is going on.
The illustrations are cute, the story is sweet, and if you think you’re too grown up to read it, this is the time of year when there are children around to provide an excuse. I give this a rating of three out of three gifts for a king.
THE FATHER CHRISTMAS CONFESSIONS
I reviewed this book recently, you can read the full review here. Suffice to say, the premise is excellent and the story is light and entertaining while still having some substance to it. It’s about a guy who is part of a secret family organisation of Father Christmases (back story explained in the book) who perform Christmas miracles for people who need them during December. His parents are trying to set him up with a girl who has zero interest in him (it’s mutual) and he accidentally ends up revealing the secret organisation to her and letting her tag along on his missions. Chaos ensues. Romance included.
There are a bunch of annoying typos and I wish the book was longer and more developed but it is just a novella and (I suspect) a debut. It’s light and enjoyable and the concept is fun. As far as I can tell, it’s only available on e-book in the UK, I’m not sure about elsewhere. It’s not a long read either, taking me a whopping hour and a half to finish. Four out of six points of a snowflake to that one.
Not everyone gets on well with Terry Pratchett. I enjoy the occasional book but tend to only read one every now and then as his style can get pretty tedious. If you’re less into the Christmas spirit and want a fun book of a more satirical bent, the Hogfather may be the book for you.
In it, the Auditors of the Universe have hired an assassin to kill Father Christmas (‘he must be real, thousands of people worldwide are known to be in correspondence with him’). Death’s granddaughter, Susan, must work out why they are doing this and stop them. In the meantime, Death himself, forbidden to intervene, takes up the Hogfather’s (Father Christmas) rounds to keep children all over Discworld believing.
The names alone make it worthwhile, between Mr. Teatime (tee-ah-tie-may) the notorious assassin and Binky, Death’s faithful steed, it’s a hilarious adventure taking the mick out of, but also revelling in the Christmas spirit.
I think a content warning is appropriate on this one because Pratchett is very much anti-Christian and it does show through in his writing. There are also several deaths, some of which are at the hands of Teatime but they’re not graphic. Five out of five of Corporal Nobby’s crossbow bolts for this one.
Surprised? I used to despise Little Women. Far too much lace and swooning (or so I thought). It wasn’t until I was much older that I began to appreciate it. As it happens, Louisa May Alcott’s timeless classic begins at Christmas, with the March girls lamenting their poor circumstances. They learn to give thanks even in their genteel destitution and embrace the love and generosity that is so often associated with Christmas. Sure, the book follows them through the rest of the year too but it’s a good start.
My personal favourite of the series is Little Men though, the third of the four books. It’s clean, it’s sweet, it’s heart-breaking, and it kicks off with Christmas cheer, what’s not to like? Five out of five of Beth’s kittens for this one.
HERCULE POIROT’S CHRISTMAS
Are you less than enamoured with all the tinsel and romance? No worries! Another good read for you is Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie. I discovered the little Belgian detective only recently and have been enjoying the audiobooks, some read by David Suchet himself.
This book contains the normal family tensions, murder, intrigue, and the exercising of Poirot’s little grey cells – just set at Christmas. Rating: three out of four of Simeon’s sons.
I suppose a content warning is due on most Poirot books as they do contain murder and, let’s be honest, there aren’t really any pleasant ways to murder a person.
There are plenty of other books that spring to mind: The Grinch, The Night Before Christmas, The Christmas Mouse, Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman and Santa Clause, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, and The Little Match Girl, but all of these are fairly well-known. You can find them on many lists of books to read around this time of year. Instead, I thought I’d recommend some less well-known titles.
Also, if you love the Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, you should read the book it was based on, The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern. I haven’t read it myself but I’ll get to it eventually.
I hope you have plenty of time over Christmas to catch up on your literary pursuits, whether reading or writing but don’t forget that this is also a good time to rest and take stock as we come to the close of yet another year.
- What are you reading at the moment?
- Do you have any favourite Christmassy books or stories?