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When the holiday season comes around, there’s something so special about pulling out one (or more) of those old familiar Classic Christmas books.

classic christmas books

While some of these books were written with young children in mind, I think you will find that so many of these stories really have stood the test of time. Not only that, but they are also stories that can be equally enjoyed by adults as much as they are by children.

C. S. Lewis famously said that “a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.”

As I was researching the best classic Christmas books to include in this list, I ran across so many adults saying things like:

“I know this book was written for kids, but this is my favorite Christmas book in the world.”

“I come back to this book every year.”

“The first time I read this book, I almost cried.”

You get the idea. Don’t shy away from any of these Christmas books because you think they are for kids.

PLUS, when you’re in the middle of a busy Christmas season, there’s something nice about being able to sit down with a cup of your favorite tea and read a book in a sitting, whether by yourself or with your family.

One of the things that was so interesting for me while I was putting together this list was to realize how many classic Christmas books have gone on to become some of the best Christmas movies and/or Christmas songs.

We readers know that the book is always better, so maybe this is a year to start diving into some of the books that inspired some of those movies.

This post is all about the best Classic Christmas books. Let’s dive in!


Favorite Classic Christmas Books

There are so many good books in this list. To give some perspective on when these books were written, each book includes the year it was published, and they are arranged chronologically from oldest to newest.

The nutcracker by ETA Hoffman

Nutcracker and Mouse King by ETA Hoffmann (1816)

It’s been a long tradition in my house to go see the Nutcracker ballet during the Christmas season. But long before there was a ballet, there was a book or, rather a short story, that was the inspiration for arguably the most famous ballet of all time. On the night before Christmas, Fritz and Marie eagerly anticipate the arrival of their Godfather Drosselmeier who always brings them extraordinary gifts. This year, Marie receives a unique nutcracker doll that leads her into an ancient conflict and eventually into a magical realm filled with candy-coated castles, chocolate monarchs, and true love.

This volume also contains The Tale of the Nutcracker by Alexandre Dumas, which was inspired by Hoffman’s tale.

the night before Christmas

The Night Before Christmas by Nikolai Gogol (1831)

I’ll be honest, at first glance this one sounded a bit odd to me, but I was intrigued to learn that this story is read aloud to children in Russia and Ukraine on Christmas Eve, and it’s inspired several films and operas through the years. The local blacksmith and the devil fall in love with the same girl, and they start competing with each other to win her heart. It all comes to a head on Christmas Eve. This book is described by fans as “scary and hilarious and jolly” and “darkly comical.” Perfect for those who love a gothic tale.

Beartown

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843)

This might be the most familiar Christmas story of them all. Even if you haven’t read the book, you’ve likely seen a movie or a play based on this book. Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserable soul who despises Christmas and the jolly-spirit that comes with it. On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his business partner Jacob Marley who died seven years ago and who warns Scrooge to change his ways or he is headed for a horrible fate.

the little match girl

The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen (1845)

Hungry, cold, and penniless, the Little Match Girl is afraid to go home because she hasn’t sold any of her matches, and she has no money to bring home. If she goes home, she knows her father will beat her because she failed to sell anything on this cold and blustery New Years Eve. Slowly, she starts lighting one match at a time. Each time she lights a match, she witnesses a vision. Then she witnesses the most glorious vision of all. There is so much going on in this short little book.

LIitle Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1869)

While Little Women is more than just a Christmas novel, the setting in which it opens in a winter during the American Civil War. One of the most humbling episodes in the book is when March sisters decide to give up the Christmas breakfast that they’ve been looking forward to and bring it to a local family who is nearly starving. That is just one of the tales that will make you fall in love with this family and warm your heart this Christmas. 

Christmas at thompson hall

Christmas at Thompson Hall by Anthony Trollope (1882)

Do you need some humor this Christmas season? The Browns are traveling to Thompson Hall for Christmas in Victorian England — which is the picture of an English Christmas with decorations of holly and plum pudding and mince-pie waiting to be eaten. To get there, they must go from the South of France to London. But they don’t make it in time due to a mishap at the hotel in Paris. This humorous book is described as a farcical and comical read that would be enjoyed by fans of P.G. Wodehouse. This volume also contains some other short Christmas stories by Trollope. They are all original stories — none of these are excerpts from his longer works.

The life and adventures of Santa claus by frank baum

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum (1902)

You probably know of L. Frank Baum as the author of The Wonderful World of Oz. In this volume, we get to know Santa Claus as a child, who lived in an enchanted forest and how he became the generous gift giver that we know and love. Baum’s Santa is reportedly inspired by Clement Moore’s poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”

gift of the magi

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry (1906)

This beautiful story of love and sacrifice will bring you to tears. A young couple who doesn’t have much money want to buy meaningful gifts for each other, which they figure out how to do by sacrificing something meaningful of their own. If you want to know what real sacrificial love looks like, I think this is such a beautiful picture of that. 

“But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. “

the velveteen rabbit

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams (1922)

The Velveteen Rabbit is a heartwarming tale about a simple, stuffed rabbit who experiences the joy of a child’s love on Christmas morning, only to be forgotten and relegated to a toy closet afterwards. Despite feeling left out and mocked by newer mechanical toys, the rabbit finds solace and wisdom in an old Skin Horse who teaches him that being real isn’t about fancy mechanisms or glossy appearances, but about the unconditional love of a child. Ultimately, this story is about the significance of love, honesty, and friendship.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie (1938)

In the mood for a mystery this Christmas? Enjoy this Christmas classic by Agatha Christie. At a family reunion on Christmas Eve, there’s a scream, a crash of furniture, and the tyrant of the family is found dead. Detective Hercule Poirot, who happens to be staying in the area, gets pulled into the investigation. He’s surprised when he doesn’t find typical mourners but a group of family members who are all looking at each other with suspicion because no one in the family really liked the dead father. 

rudolph the red-nosed reindeer by robert may

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Robert May (1939)

Before the movie and the song, there was a book. Rudolfph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was the creation of Robert May, who was working as a catalogue copy writer for Montgomery Ward at the time. Every year Montgomery Ward put out a Christmas coloring booklet, and in 1939 May was asked to create a new character for the coloring booklet. And that’s how the beloved reindeer was born. May said that Rudolph was inspired by the ugly duckling. While you may be familiar with the story from the song and the movie, the book has some differences.

I really enjoyed this rendition using the original story and illustrations released by Dartmouth.

The Greatest Gift

The Greatest Gift: A Christmas Tale by Philip Van Doren Stern (1943)

You may not have heard of The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern, but you know the story if you have ever seen the classic Christmas movie by Frank Capra, It’s a Wonderful Life. The Greatest Gift is the short story that the movie is based on. Stern says that the story came to him in a dream. When he first wrote the story, he couldn’t find a publisher who would take it. He took matters into his own hands when he decided to make it his Christmas card in 1943. The Greatest Gift tells the story of George Pratt who is considering taking his own life when he gets to find out what the world would have been like with him in it. I find this to be such a reflective story.

miracle on 34th street

Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies (1947)

Author Valentine Davies wrote this novella after he wrote the story that became the movie that we know and love. Davies said the story was inspired when he was standing in line at a department store and he witnessed a woman, her daughter, and a man who believed he was the real Santa Claus. Kris Kringle ends up behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit, causing quite a stir in Philadelphia. Not one to wallow, Kris decides to spread some holiday cheer as a mall Santa at Macy’s on 34th Street. Despite the bustling crowds, Kris finds it tough to keep his faith in miracles alive. But then, everything changes — he helps an elderly lady receive her Christmas gift and meets a young girl who has unwavering faith in him. This experience reignites Kris’s belief in the magic of Christmas and the miracles that can come true when we believe.

Christmas Day in the Morning

Christmas Day in the Morning (1955)

Pearl S. Buck is best known for her book The Good Earth, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize. Christmas Day in the Morning is described as illustrating the true meaning of Christmas. It’s Christmas Eve, and Rob wants to buy a Christmas present for his father. He doesn’t just want to get him anything, he wants to get him something that will really show his father the love he has for him. Given that he doesn’t have much money, what can he get for him that will be as special as he wants it to be? This book is about that discovery.

A Christmas memory truman capote

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote (1956)

A Christmas Memory is based on Capote’s childhood experiences growing up in small-town Alabama. Buddy is a young boy who has an elderly cousin. This story is ultimately about an endearing friendship between two unlikely souls and the Christmas traditions and rituals that bind them together, even if one of them is baking fruitcakes. Fans say this book helped them realize their own Christmas memories they had forgotten about, and that “this has to be one of the sweetest, most nostalgic” stories they have ever read.

how the grinch stole christmas by dr seuss

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss (1957)

At first glance, How the Grinch Stole Christmas looks like a silly, playful book. But I think this book has one of the best messages — all the pomp and circumstance, the gift giving, the festive music, the delicious food that we think define Christmas — those things are all just by-products. We don’t NEED any of them to enjoy Christmas. And that’s what the Grinch learns when thinks he “stole” Christmas. If it’s been a while since you’ve read this one, definitely pick this one up, and enjoy it by yourself or with a child in your life.

the family under the bridge

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson (1958)

Armand is a homeless man in Paris, who likes his life just the way it is. He spends his nights sleeping under a bridge along the Seine River. One day when he comes back to his spot, he finds a widow and her three children who are newly homeless. Even though the last thing he ever wanted was the responsibility of a family, he ends up taking them under his wing and shows them the ropes of homeless life in Paris. The experience is transformative for Armand. This book takes place during the Christmas season, making it a great read for the season. One fan described this one as “a truly heartwarming story for all ages.”

A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd

A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd (1966)

Most of us know of A Christmas Story from the Christmas classic movie that was released in 1983. But before there was a movie, there was a book (or two). The movie A Christmas Story was based on stories from two different books by Shepherd. Most of the movie is based on the book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash (1966) with some stories taken from Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and Other Disaster (1971). The stories the movie is based on have now been compiled into this single volume. If you are a fan of the movie, you will definitely want to check out this book. The stories are described as “semi-fictional anecdotes.”

Letters from Father Christmas by Tolkien

Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien (1976)

The famed author J.R.R. Tolkien wrote letters to his children for years that were responses to the letters they wrote to Father Christmas. Father Christmas tells them stories of the adventurous life he lived in the North Pole with reindeer and polar bears. Even though this book wasn’t published until 1976. The letters were written between 1920 and 1943.

the polar express

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg (1985)

The Polar Express is a story about the magic of Christmas. If you’ve never read this book, which I recommend doing even if you’ve seen this movie, you will walk away wondering how it is that the magic of Christmas fades as we become adults. Or does it? The movie is well done, but I also find it a bit jarring and stressful if you don’t know how it’s going to end. So, definitely read the book first so you have some perspective going into it.

the tale of three trees

The Tale of Three Trees by Angela Elwell Hunt (1989)

Three different trees have three different wishes, but they all hope they get cut down and get used for something great — a treasure chest, a ship, and to become “so tall that when people stop to look at me they will raise their eyes to heaven and think of God.” All of their dreams get fulfilled in different parts of Jesus’ life but not at all what either of them expected. Fans say this book shows that the careful purpose that God has for his creation. And on the flip side, it also shows the desire of God’s creation to glorify God. There’s a lot of meaning in this book!

The christmas box by richard paul evans

The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans (1993)

The Christmas Box is considered “the most popular holiday take since Tiny Tim,” according to Newsweek. While Richard Paul Evans has gone on to write many other books, this was his debut. The Christmas Box is the story of a young family who moves in with a widow to be her caretakers. While they are taking care of her, it’s the widow who has an important message to share. You’ll have to read The Christmas Box to find out. 

the legend of the poinsettia

The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola (1993)

Have you ever wondered how the poinsettia became associated with Christmas? In this book, author Tomie dePaola retells the Mexican legend that explains the origin. In Mexico, the poinsettia is called the “flower of the Holy Night.” The Legend of the Poinsettia is about a young girl who, unable to offer a gift to baby Jesus due to her mother’s illness, is advised by a fairy godmother to give anything from the heart. Despite the village’s disbelief, she presents weeds at the church. The village can’t believe that all she would bring is weeds. Miraculously, these weeds bloom into a vibrant red plant — the Poinsettia.

The christmas miracle of jonathan toomey

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechiwski (1995)

Even though this book was published in 1995, many describe this book as true Christmas classic and a must-read for the whole family. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey tells the story of the widower and acclaimed woodcarver Jonathan Toomey. The locals know him as the lonely man who never smiles. A woman and her son show up at his door one day that leads an unexpected miracle.

The latest anniversary edition includes a free audio version of the book read by James Earl Jones.

This book was made into a movie in 2007.

the year of the perfect christmas tree

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story by Gloria Houston (1996)

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree is based on a true story that takes place during World War I that has been passed on through the generations. Before Ruthie’s father goes off to fight in The Great War, the two pick out the tree that is supposed to be the town’s Christmas tree that year. But her father isn’t back from the war to cut down and put up the tree. Will he be back in time to put up the tree? What about Ruthie’s angel costume for the play, will her mom be able to make it given that they can’t afford the fabric? This story is about how a family finds a way in a great time of need. Fans say this is a book of hope that will stay with you for a long time.

Have you read any of these books? Which ones do you hope to read this holiday season?

What are your favorite Christmas books? Are there any others you think deserve to be on this list?

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