Christmas reads can be described in pairs it seems—single stories and collections, old and new, for readers young and old. You may have a few of these on your shelves, or you may be looking for gift ideas, a way to invest in the imagination, in the heart, or both.
Though I often wonder why many wonderful stories are no longer in print, many can be found through independent booksellers through Indiebound or AbeBooks in addition to listings on eBay and others.
- One example is T.S. Eliot’s The Cultivation of Christmas Trees first published by Farrar Straus Giroux in 1956. Part of the Ariel series, it’s a long-out-of-print gem illustrated by Jewish artist Enrico Arno, who fled Nazi Germany then settled in the United States as a book designer and illustrator. In a spiritual poem, Eliot praises the meaning of Christmas and cautions us against the loss of wonder.
- Another example is Leo Tolstoy’s short story Papa Panov’s Special Christmas. The title may change based on the translator but the traditional Christmas story stars a widower shoemaker who faithfully works and prays and hopes to see Jesus in others as Christmas approaches. Usually sold as a picture book, there are a number of illustrated versions from over the years. It’s a delightful, even sentimental read-aloud, for families. I found my copy at a library discard sale and have seen used editions listed online.
- The next book was recently republished by HarperCollins in 2015. Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien is a delightful collection of the letters Tolkien wrote every year for his children. The delight is just as much in Tolkien’s expression as a loving father as it is in the art and letters themselves. His letters and lettering, the postal envelopes, and the illustrations are reproduced from the Bodleian Library’s archive of Tolkien drawings.
- For new collections, one of the most beautiful hardbacks is the British Library’s 2018 A Literary Christmas: An Anthology. Novel excerpts from Chesterton, Alcott, and George Eliot are complemented by poems and short stories by British and American authors alike. From wartime to winter weather to comedy, worship, or children, there are selections for every reader.
- Thomas Nelson also published a hardcover anthology last year titled A Vintage Christmas: A Collection of Classic Stories and Poems. The heartwarming short stories include words by L.M. Montgomery, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Charles Dickens. Poetry by Anne Bronte, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Longfellow, and Coleridge round out the short works. This year, Thomas Nelson published a second collection, A Classic Christmas: A Collection of Classic Stories and Poems. Both collections are available on audiobook.
- No list would be complete without editions from the Folio Society. With illustrator Rebecca Green, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is a delight to the eye with nine color pages within and a bright blue cloth without. Complete with slipcase, it is often sold out due to small runs, but the 2014 edition features the same illustrator. The 1966 edition, more Victorian in style, is also available through used book sellers.
- Cheery red with green endpapers, A Christmas Carol illustrated by Michael Foreman is the more affordable Folio edition. The 1994, 2003, and 2007 editions are available through AbeBooks and eBay as well.
- The Penguin Classics Christmas editions are also inexpensive. Published as a six volume boxed set in 2016, the individual volumes are slim and perfect for stocking stuffers at less than $15 each. The set features Christmas regulars Dickens and Alcott but also E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker, L. Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, and Nikolai Gogol’s The Night Before Christmas. I particularly enjoyed the fifth book featuring the wit and insight of Anthony Trollope, Christmas at Thompson Hall: And Other Christmas Stories.
- And finally, I mention The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter. Said to be her favorite, the 1902 tale is based on a true story of a poor tailor on his last thread. So much rests on his cat Simpkin and the grateful and merry mice who live in the walls to bring about the tailor’s Christmas miracle. Potter’s illustrations are themselves a study. She prepared by sketching the Gloucester street where the real tailor’s shop stood as well as the interior of a tailor’s shop in Chelsea before visiting the costume rooms at what is now the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Each story, each setting, the design of each book is unique and timeless. They are rich in beauty and ready to hold, to carry, and of course, to read.
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* If you’d like a free printable list of all nine, you’re welcome to the 2019 list of Classic Christmas Reads on my website.
The featured image is a photograph of books, taken by Chris Lawton and courtesy of Unsplash.