Christmas books

Christmas has always been a time for storytelling. So, if you’ve sent your cards, put up the decorations and wrapped your presents, why not read a Christmas favourite?

From children’s classics to Charles Dickens, there’s a book to get everyone in a festive mood.

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

Or the book that helped invent the modern Christmas. Written in 1843, Dickens' portrayal of seasonal gatherings, traditional food and goodwill to all men has become the template of the season.

His tale of Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim and the Ghosts of Christmas past, present and future is also an integral part of popular culture. In fact, it's inspired retellings by everyone from Doctor Who to The Muppets. It's part ghost story, part exploration of a society split by class, part heart-warming tale of redemption. But it's all as Christmassy as a book can be.

Dylan Thomas – A Child’s Christmas in Wales

This short story is a poetic retelling of the Christmases of Thomas’s youth in Swansea. With different Christmases rolling into one in his memory, Thomas conveys the childlike wonder of the season through a series of presents, tipsy aunts, snowball fights and feasts. True, there’s melancholy for a world – and childhood – long left behind, but this is a celebration of Christmas to touch the heart.

Father Christmas – Raymond Briggs

In this children’s classic, everyone is looking forward to Christmas except the big man himself. Subverting the usual jolly image, Father Christmas is grumpy, going about his job and dreaming of summer. The last thing he wants to do is deliver presents. Following him as he battles through bad weather and down difficult chimneys, this was first published in 1973. It’s been delighting children of all ages ever since.

The Snowman – Raymond Briggs

Another of Briggs’ classic comic strips, a young boy builds a snowman that magically comes to life. The pair then have an adventure before the snowman melts away the next day. And all without a single word on the page. It’s not really a Christmas book either. The original wasn’t set during the festive season, but was forever linked to Christmas by the animated film and its ‘Walking in the Air’ soundtrack.

Stickman – Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

The epic story of a Stick that gets carried away from home by a string of animals and humans. While they’re busy using him as a toy or a tool, all Stickman wants is to return to his family tree and his Stick Lady Love and their stick children three. Just when he’s lost all hope, Santa shows up and gets him home in time for Christmas. A heart-warming modern children’s classic, you’ll never care so much about a stick.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas  – Clement C Moore

This American poem is officially known as A Visit from St. Nicholas. Whatever you call it, it gave birth to the modern idea of Santa Claus. The poem sees St Nicholas as 'chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf' who appears on a reindeer-driven sleigh one snowy Christmas Eve. It was written for Moore’s children in 1822. But this poem has been read on Christmas Eve ever since.

The Polar Express – Chris Van Allsburg

At the start of this story, the young hero Billy is starting to doubt whether Santa exists. Then a magical stream train arrives on Christmas Eve. It whisks him off to the North Pole to meet the big man himself. While there, Santa offers him any gift he wants. Beautifully illustrated, this is a book about believing in the magic of Christmas.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas – Dr Seuss

The Grinch is angry about Christmas. His heart is ‘two sizes too small’ and he hates the noise of the happy Whos celebrating. So he decides to stop Christmas by stealing all the presents, all the decorations and all the food. It’s probably not a spoiler to say he fails. Full of Dr Seuss’ usual catchy rhymes and anarchic humour, this suggests Christmas is about joy rather than presents. 

Letters From Father Christmas – JRR Tolkien

Every year Tolkien, writer of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, sent his children a letter from the North Pole. They came with special stamps and written in Santa's shaky hand. They described Father Christmas’ adventures that year and feature polar bear helpers, Snow-elves, reindeer and battles with goblins. Written over 20 years and featuring Tolkien’s original illustrations, these letters are a magical Christmas journey from the master of fantasy.

The Little Match Girl – Hans Christian Anderson

This poignant story from the famous fairy tale writer features a young girl trying to sell matches on a cold New Year’s Eve. She’s afraid to go home and get a beating for failing to sell anything, so she starts to light her stock to keep warm. In the flames she sees wonderful visions of holiday feasts and her dead grandmother – the only person to have shown her kindness. It ends with the little girl succumbing to the cold and whisked off to heaven with her grandmother.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas – Agatha Christie

There’s no rest for Christie’s famous Belgian detective in this festive murder mystery. The moustache-wearing sleuth turns up on Christmas Eve when Simeon Lee, a multi-millionaire, is murdered. He’s found in a pool of blood in a locked room. The house is full of the victim’s family, but who hated him the most? And can Poirot root out the killer?

Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer – Robert L May

You may not have read this, but you definitely know the words. The story of Rudolph was originally written for Chicago department store Montgomery Ward. They gave the book to over 2 million children during Christmas 1939. From there May’s poem and Rudolph's ‘very shiny nose’ took on a life of its own. They've since become a song, cartoons, books and an established festive favourite.