The decorations are up. The fire is crackling, the cocoa is simmering, and your toes are comfortably cozy in your favorite winter socks. These are all sure signs you’ve successfully set the stage for an idyllic afternoon of wintertime reading. Now, all you need is a festive book to put you in the holiday spirit. Books and the holiday season go together like sugar cookies and buttercream frosting; they’re a perfect combination.
To help you make the most of what we like to call “book-reading season”, we’ve compiled one last list of books that will take you through the decades of the past one hundred years. This one is distinctly holiday themed, featuring old and new favorites. You’ll see the rules have relaxed a bit; this list doesn’t require the book to be written in the decade it’s set or even set in the decade it’s written, but the idea of giving you a window into a different time is still our goal. So, turn on some relaxing holiday tunes, pull up your plushy reading chair, and dive into one – or more – of these wonderful holiday stories.
Letters From Father Christmas
J.R.R. Tolkien, 1976
Beginning in 1920, Mr. Tolkien wrote a letter at Christmastime to his three boys from Father Christmas or his elfin secretary. He continued that annual tradition until 1942. This book is a collection of those letters and was published posthumously in 1976. The letters tell the tales of Father Christmas and his sidekicks, the North Polar Bear and the bear cubs Paksu and Valkotukka.
Tolkien’s whimsy and creativity are clearly on display in these charming letters. Whether he’s recounting how the North Polar Bear managed to fall through the roof of the house or what happened when a rogue reindeer scattered presents far and wide, his mastery of storytelling is evident with every word. What’s also evident is Tolkien’s love for his boys. Fatherhood is central to these letters from Father Christmas.
As the boys grow older, the themes of the stories grow more serious, even tackling WWII and global conflict. Your heartstrings will be pulled as you read between the lines the bittersweet musings of a father who’s watching his boys grow up and stop believing in the magic of Father Christmas.
This holiday book contains beautiful calligraphy and illustrations, many done by Tolkien himself. It’s a book to be savored. You’ll want to make reading this collection part of your holiday traditions each year.
Truman Capote, 1956
Is Truman Capote the most prominent member of the “Authors We didn’t Think Could Write a Christmas Story” club? Maybe. But write one he did, and a lovely one at that. You’ll be shouting, “It’s fruitcake weather!” along with Buddy as you enjoy this charming autobiographical short story about a boy and his elderly cousin who need to bake thirty fruitcakes for the holidays. It’s the depression and they’ve no money for ingredients, but they make up for what they lack in determination, love for each other, and love for the season.
by Dean Hughes, 2015
Money is tight, rationing makes everything a challenge, and worry is palpable as the Hayes family prepares to celebrate Christmas in 1944. Mr. Hughes is a talented writer who makes his characters come alive; you won’t want to say goodbye to anyone at story’s end. Mothers and sons are at the center of this tender tale that will remind you the holiday season is ultimately about a season of hope.
Frederick Forsyth, 1974
Are you in the mood for a holiday ghost story that doesn’t involve Scrooge? In this novella, there are no ghosts of Christmas past, no haunted houses, and no ghostly angels. There is, however, a De Havilland Mosquito fighter bomber that appears in a fog to mysteriously shepherd a De Havilland Vampire pilot home on Christmas Eve 1957.
Mr. Forsyth’s excellent writing and first-hand knowledge of airplanes make this a joy to read. Interestingly, this story is read every year in Canada on CBC Radio One during the holiday season. It might just become one of your holiday book traditions as well.
Wally Lamb, 2010
Bestselling author Wally Lamb captures the joy of the holidays through the eyes of a feisty fifth grader, Felix Funicello. While LBJ sits in the White House, the Beatles take the world by storm, and Felix’s cousin Annette rules the screen, 10-year-old Felix is just trying to make sense of his world.
If you love Mr. Lamb’s previous work, you’ll recognize his thought-provoking style, but you’ll also appreciate that this book is light enough to read during the holidays. Warning: you’ll laugh out loud, so choose your reading time and location accordingly.
Barbara Robinson, 1971
This is the story of the Herdmans, a family of 6 misfit children, Imogene, Ralph, Claude, Leroy, Ollie, and Gladys, who are all trouble. They smoke cigars, cuss, steal, and bully. Hearing that there are free snacks in Sunday School, they all show up one week, a week that happens to be the casting call for the Christmas Pageant. Imogene gets the part of Mary, Ralph becomes Joseph, the Three Wise Men are played by Claude, Ollie, and Leroy, and Gladys, the meanest Herdman, embraces the role of the Angel of the Lord, whom she imagines to be like a hero straight out of Amazing Comics. Since all the other kids are too terrified to object, the director has no choice but to fill the pageant with Herdmans.
But the Herdmans have never heard the Christmas story before and they question everything they hear and everything they’re asked to do. In this pageant, Mary and Joseph walk in looking very uncertain and more than a little afraid. The Wise Men don’t quite know what to do either and actually bring a ham in addition to the frankincense and myrrh. Imogene insists on holding her baby, and, when Gladys announces Jesus’ birth, the shepherds look terrified. You’ll laugh and cry at this memorable account of what surely was the best Christmas pageant ever.
Chris Van Allsburg, 1985
Children’s books have not been the focus of our reading challenges, but The Polar Express is worth including on any holiday reading list. How often does a new fairy tale come along that becomes an instant classic? Mr. Van Allsburg’s beautiful book was awarded the Caldecott Medal for the illustrations and won a spot on the New York Times bestseller list multiple years in a row. Can you still here the sound of the bell? After reading this book, it just might sound for you again.
What can a widow and a young family teach about Christmas? You’ll need to read this beloved story for yourself to find the answer. This book is a favorite of many and is the beginning of a trilogy, so if you start early, you’ll have time to read all three. And you might have time to watch the movie as well starring the inimitable Maureen O’Hara.
by Josie Silver, 2018
If a YA romance isn’t your cup of tea, then One Day in December might be more your style. This seasonal romance spent time on the New York Times bestsellers list and was picked by Reese Witherspoon as one of her top book club picks of all time. If you’re looking for a love story to warm up your holiday season, you can’t do better than this novel about second chances…and third chances…and maybe even tenth chances. This book will remind you the path to love and happiness is often long and filled with surprises. A quiet afternoon, a mug of eggnog, and this book will make hours fly by for you this December.
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Explore these and other holiday books at Discover Books online today. At Discover Books, you’ll find these favorites as well as millions of gently used books starting at $3.85 at Discoverbooks.com. Add one or more of these titles to your cart today and discover something new. Happy holidays from Discover Books!