RSS
5 classic stories to read for Christmas
You think you know these tales, but they're ripe for rediscovery. Celebrate the yuletide season with literary characters from Ebenezer Scrooge to Sherlock Holmes
First Lady Michelle Obama reads a story to children at the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in 2009.
First Lady Michelle Obama reads a story to children at the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in 2009. AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
A

uthors have long attempted to capture the Christmas spirit in novellas, short stories, and poetry. So spike your eggnog, sit down by the fire, and celebrate the season with one of these holiday classics:

1. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
From Mr. Magoo to the Muppets, it's hard to find a pop-culture entity that hasn't put its own stamp on Ebenezer Scrooge's life-changing encounter with the three ghosts of Christmas. But no matter how familiar, Dickens' original 1843 novella still manages to have a powerful impact:

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Read the rest of the story.

2. Twas the Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore
Originally published anonymously under the title "A Visit From Saint Nicholas" in 1823, the poem more commonly known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" helped to establish America's popular conception of Santa Claus as a kindly old soul who delivers presents each Christmas Eve:

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there

Read the rest of the poem.

3. The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry
O. Henry's 1906 short story, in which a poor young woman sells her long, beautiful hair to buy her husband a Christmas present, features one of the most famous twist endings in literary history — and stands as a classic parable of Christmas generosity:

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

Read the rest of the story. 

4. The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote four novels and 56 short stories chronicling the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson — but none is a better fit for the yuletide season than The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, which was originally published in Strand Magazine shortly after the holidays in 1892:

I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas, with the intention of wishing him the compliments of the season. He was lounging upon the sofa in a purple dressing-gown, a pipe-rack within his reach upon the right, and a pile of crumpled morning papers, evidently newly studied, near at hand. Beside the couch was a wooden chair, and on the angle of the back hung a very seedy and disreputable hard-felt hat, much the worse for wear, and cracked in several places. A lens and a forceps lying upon the seat of the chair suggested that the hat had been suspended in this manner for the purpose of examination.

"You are engaged," said I; "perhaps I interrupt you."

"Not at all. I am glad to have a friend with whom I can discuss my results. The matter is a perfectly trivial one"—he jerked his thumb in the direction of the old hat—"but there are points in connection with it which are not entirely devoid of interest and even of instruction."

Read the rest of the story.

5. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, by L. Frank Baum 
L. Frank Baum is best known for creating the land of Oz, but he turned his attention away from Dorothy and the gang to offer his own unique history of Santa Claus, which explains where His Jolliness came from, and how he decided to give away presents each Christmas season:

Have you heard of the great Forest of Burzee? Nurse used to sing of it when I was a child. She sang of the big tree-trunks, standing close together, with their roots intertwining below the earth and their branches intertwining above it; of their rough coating of bark and queer, gnarled limbs; of the bushy foliage that roofed the entire forest, save where the sunbeams found a path through which to touch the ground in little spots and to cast weird and curious shadows over the mosses, the lichens and the drifts of dried leaves.

The Forest of Burzee is mighty and grand and awesome to those who steal beneath its shade. Coming from the sunlit meadows into its mazes it seems at first gloomy, then pleasant, and afterward filled with never-ending delights.

Read the rest of the story.

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week