The internet offers a wealth of holiday stories that can enhance your family's Christmas season. With the help of the (now defunct) ClassicalReview email list, some of the best classic stories and poems have been selected and listed here.
(AO suggested stories, poems, Thanksgiving hymns, and Christmas music for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's.)
An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott
A story that can be read in one sitting; it isn't very long. It starts off with warm and sentimental descriptions of a large, loving family doing all the nostalgic preparations for a Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House type of Thanksgiving. But then the parents rush off to visit an ailing relative and the children are left alone, and try to finish the preparations themselves. At this point, it becomes reminiscent of another Laura Ingalls Wilder book - the one where Almanzo's parents go away and the children try to keep house themselves.
Though we don't normally recommend movies, we're making an exception for Noelle, a Christmas movie written, produced, and acted by an AO family. This critically acclaimed drama tells the story of a hard-hearted priest who comes to close down a dying church and encounters the real people who live in the parish. It deals with guilt and the difficulty of accepting grace, and portrays the power of love and redemption. (Read Amazon.com reviews.)
If you love A Christmas Carol, you will also love The Chimes. This is Dickens at his best, making us feel vicariously the misery of the poor and oppressed and see their unfair treatment. It might be ranked close in quality to A Christmas Carol, although it's a New Years' story rather than a Christmas story. In fact, it's similar to A Christmas Carol - the spirits of the chimes teach him a similar lesson to the one that the Christmas spirits taught Ebenezer Scrooge, except that the main character is a good man, not a Scrooge, and there's more misery.
The Haunted Man and The Ghost's Bargain by Charles Dickens
Have you ever, when observing or even experiencing great pain, or sorrow, or past hurts, wondered if the world wouldn't be a better place if we weren't subject to feeling emotion? Imagine what it would be to have no bitter memories, no regret, no ill-will because you couldn't remember the offense. Mr. Redwall, wallowing in the tragedy of a beloved sister lost long ago by the actions of a man gone wrong, is offered this escape from his pain. This is rather a long story to get into, but the jolting possibilities and scenarios brought on by this 'gift' make it a story, that, once you get into, you'll want to read on and see what happens next.
Here are more Dickens Christmas stories, but they are probably best appreciated by die-hard Dickens fans:
Some Christmas Stories (6 short stories)
Stories included are A Christmas Tree, What Christmas Is As We Grow Older, The Poor Relation's Story, The Child's Story, The Schoolboy's Story, Nobody's Story.
Holiday Romance is not a Christmas story; it's about 4 children playing house
The Making of a Christmas Story, a chapter from the book The Holiday Round, by A.A. Milne, is a very short story more for grown-ups that can be read in just a few minutes and features the same kind of humor that made Winnie the Pooh popular. The entire book is posted at Project Gutenburg, but since only this chapter is about Christmas, it's been posted separately.
Thanks to Gail for submitting this one:
"We enjoyed the stories in this online book so much, that I went out and found the actual book for holiday reading."
Selections from Good Stories for Great Holidays by Frances Jenkins Olcott
(has stories for more holidays than just Christmas)
Little Piccola, by Frances Olcott after a poem by Celia Thaxter (or here)
The Stranger Child: A Legend by Count Franz Pocci (or here)
The Wooden Shoes of Little Wolff by Francois Coppee (or here)
The Pine Tree by Hans Christian Andersen (or here)
The Christmas Cuckoo by Francis Browne (or here)
The Thunder Oak: A Scandinavian Legend by William S. Walsh (or here)
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry about the sacrificial love between young newlyweds
The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter - A destitute tailor's kindness is rewarded when he needs it most
This Way to Christmas by Ruth Sawyer - Christmas stories that children will love are interwoven into a story of a lonely boy and how his friendships with the outcasts of the community overcome prejudice. Highly recommended.
The Childrens' Book of Christmas Stories edited by Asa Don Dickinson and Ada Skinner - A variety of Christmas stories that will appeal to children in one volume. Includes The Fir-Tree by Hans Christian Andersen, Excerpts from Dickens' A Christmas Carol, fairy tales, and stories of Christmases blessed with kind deeds.
The Noel Candle by Clement C. Moore - A sweet, very short story that tells a legend about the first noel candle, written by the author of the famous poem, Twas The Night before Christmas.
The Gifts of the Christ Child by George MacDonald - May be more appreciated by mothers on a quiet afternoon over a cup (or two) of tea. It's about a neglected little girl whose mother has died, her father is re-married to a lovely yet simple young lady who is a slight disappointment to him. In her loneliness, the little girl wishes God would chastise her because she has heard that God chastises those He loves, and she wishes He loved her. This story is about the lives of the little girl and everyone around her, and how a child's misunderstanding one Christmas changes everything. Like everything else George MacDonald writes, there are little gems in almost every sentence of the story, so it's not one to rush through. This is just one chapter from Christmas Stories of George MacDonald. The entire text is not online, just the one chapter, but if the other stories are as good, then this would be a nice book to own.
Old Christmas by Washington Irving - Features Washington Irving's excellent style of writing. He begins by waxing nostalgic about how the old spirit of Christmas is disappearing in the worldliness of modern progress (and this was in 1820!) and then spends the remainder of the book with what looks like a detailed journal of a Christmas he spent in Yorkshire. It's all descriptions, and might be a nice read for someone wanting to know how people used to spend Christmas in a bygone era. May be long and uninteresting for children.
These Little Ones by Edith Nesbit - This is a book of bittersweet stories, including the poignantly sad story of regret, "The Criminal" (the sixth chapter), and a sweet story with a happy ending that children will like called Thor and the Hammer (the eighth chapter) Neither is a Christmas story. For Christmas, these two chapters are suggested:
The Three Mothers (chapter 1) about loss and the Lord's ability to bring people with needs together, is more for mothers to read.
The Little Chap (chapter 9) is about a child who brings light into the life of a despairing man at Christmastime, and is one children will like.
The Birds' Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin - The only daughter in a family of 3 older brothers -- named Carol because she was born on Christmas morning -- brings joy to everyone around her. She is an angelic too-good-to-be-true child. When it becomes evident that she isn't strong enough to live long, she makes Christmas memorable by sharing it with the brood of nine rowdy but poor next-door-neighbor children. Their response to such a treat and their attempts to act "proper" in the company of well-to-do Carol make this short story worth reading.
The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry van Dyke (all ages) is a classic that's been made into variations, and even a cartoon version. This is the original. :)
Other books recommended (these aren't online):
The Christmas Mystery is a wonderful Christmas story for older children and up. It's a combination of two stories really. The book has 24 chapters, from the 1st of December to the 24th. Each day starts off with the boy Joachim, who has an advent calendar that he opens up to a picture and a piece of paper telling the second story. The mystery is if the story inside it is true or not.
The Christmas Day Kitten by James Herriot (younger kids; $)
Maggie Rose: Her Birthday Christmas by Ruth Sawyer (who wrote This Way to Christmas, which is mentioned above).
Terri writes, Every holiday season, we read Maggie Rose. It is out of print, but not difficult to find. It's a charming book! Here's a recap from the book cover:
"Eight-going on nine-year-old Maggie Rose, who was born on the night before Christmas and named after a real live princess, is one of "those Bunkers," a lazy and shiftless family who live in a dilapidated shack on the wrong side of the Point, a resort spot near Bangor, Maine, and are known to one and all as the laziest, laughingest, singingest family for miles around. Tim and Liz Bunker and their brood of seven children are without an ambition in the world and prefer to lean generously on the charity of their neighbors rather than go out and work. Only Maggie Rose ever wishes for something a little better; most especially, she wishes that just for once there was enough money for "those Bunkers" to have a wonderful birthday Christmas celebration all of their own.
In spite of their faults "those Bunkers" have a fine feeling for the important things in life and they all recognize Maggie Rose as something special, someone who might have come out of the top bureau drawer, had they had a bureau drawer. So when tragedy threatens Maggie Rose, "those Bunkers" are finally jolted out of their kitchen chairs, and in an unprecedented move they rally together and determinedly set about making Maggie Rose's dream come true.
Ruth Sawyer's unfailing magic...brings smiles and tears to her readers.There's the feel of Maine and Maine people in the telling-the author has a gift for absorbing local idiom, for telling a story out of the hearts of her characters." ($)
The Last Straw by Paula Palangi McDonald; Not easy to find online (try here), but can be purchased at amazon.com. Children put straw in a manger for every secret good deed they do as part of their advent season. One child has a particularly hard time doing good deeds for a difficult sister. ()
Turkey For Christmas by Marguerite De Angeli. Gail writes: "We read this every year and it has become a tradition in our home."
From the inside cover:
"Christmas!" said Bess softly. To her the wonder of Christmas was a kind of blue-and-gold mystery. It was true it wouldn't be Christmas without a turkey...and Papa said that they would have to choose between a turkey and a few small gifts. But could it still be Christmas with no packages to wrap on Christmas Eve, no secrets to share--and on Christmas morning no bulging stockings or exciting bundles?
Of course there was still the feeling of crisp, cold starlight, of bells chiming. Christmas dinner, with turkey and everything that goes with it...and best of all, her sister, Martha, was almost well and would soon be home from the hospital. But Bess felt very strange, all the same. . .
This it the perfect book to read aloud--a book for every child who has ever asked, "What was it like in the olden times when you were young, Mother?"--and also for every adult who cherishes the memory of Christmases long ago. It is an enchanting story about a family who makes Christmas come true in a time of troubles, and of a little girl how learns that the shape and color of Christmas are made up of love given and received.
Marguerite de Angeli, as all her devoted readers know, has her own special way of communicating wonder and magic in her writing and illustrations. She has never done so more beautifully than in this true story of her own childhood--written for her grandchildren and their children--with all the warmth and reality of happy recollection. ($)
Donna-Jean Breckenridge lists these books as some her family enjoys each year:
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, illustrated by P.J.Lynch - A little boy and his widowed mother break through to a widower's heart one Christmas as he carves for them each piece of Nativity set. The language is rich and rhythmic, and the artwork is beautiful. In my mind, it unfolds like an exquisitely filmed Christmas movie! ($)
One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham, illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson - A young boy is caught in a snowstorm in the mountains, and takes shelter in a cabin his own grandfather built years before. The woman living there cares for his hurt ankle, and tells him the Christmas story through the entire tale of God's redemption of man. The narrative is expansive, and focuses on the complete account of why Christ came. The artwork - including one of a mantel that is in the Grahams' own North Carolina home - is lush and imaginative, and much of it (including that of creation, the angel with the flaming sword, the flood, Moses and Pharaoh, Samson, the shepherds on the hillside, the announcing angels, and the crucifixion) lingers with the reader. ($)
And don't forget the Christmas portions of favorite classics.
Christmas with Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, illustrated by Russ Flint - This was put out by Ideals Publishing in 1986, and it takes the portions of "Little Women" that tell when the sisters gave their Christmas breakfast to a poor family, and later opened their own special gifts, including their little Bibles. "Merry Christmas, Marmee! Many of them! Thank you for our books; we read some, and mean to every day," they cried, in chorus. ($)
A Little House Christmas, Holiday Stories from the Little House Books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Garth Williams - This was put out by Harper Collins in 1994, and is a lovely large paperback (with the familiar illustrations having a colored hue to them). But even without it, Christmas chapters from the different books can be read, such as "Christmas" (from "Little House in the Big Woods"), "Mr. Edwards meets Santa Claus" (from "Little House on the Prairie"), and "The Christmas Horses," "A Merry Christmas," "Surprise," "The Fourth Day," and "Christmas Eve" (from "On the Banks of Plum Creek"). ($)
The Quiet Little Woman by Louisa May Alcott is a collection of three of her Christmas stories, newly discovered and published by Honor Books. Stories are The Quiet Little Woman, Tilly's Christmas and Rosa's Tale. ($)
The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans. (Simon and Shuster) - A modern tale of mystery, of long-ago grief, of the love of parents for children, of choices. A truly beautiful story. ($)
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (1972). There is no other Christmas story like this. It makes me laugh until I can't breathe anymore; then it makes me cry with new understanding at the miracle of Christmas. In fact, it's not Christmas until I read this, and hear again Gladys' shout, "HEY! Unto you a child is born!" ($)
Jotham's Journey by Arnold Ytreeide a new favorite! ($)
AmblesideOnline also has a page of Christmas and New Years' Poems
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