Each year as the holiday season rolls around, there are a million ‘tis the season movie marathons. There are plenty of Christmas specials for your favorite TV shows. Stores explode with red-and-gold merchandise that just screams "festive." However, despite all this holiday cheer, in my opinion the best holiday books to read come wintertime aren’t shiny and new. They’re not displayed with fresh paperback covers next to new ornaments at the store. Nope, the best holiday stories are the ones that have been around for ages: your favorite classic books.
Sure, everyone knows certain literary holiday tales like “The Night Before Christmas,” but there are plenty of awesome holiday scenes in classics, even if the whole book isn’t entirely about the season. And in my opinion, if there’s at least one festive scene, that qualifies that book as a Holiday Read.
Something about the descriptions of holiday celebrations in fictional worlds (especially set in bygone eras) calls out to me. When the characters are freaked out of their minds to get an apple and an orange in their stocking, or they get snowed in because their carriage can’t make it through the stormy weather, or they receive a ghostly visit that turns their life around… well, that’s the kind of quality content I want to read while curled up beside a crackling fire.
1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Jo was the first to wake in the gray dawn of Christmas morning. No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she felt as much disappointed as she did long ago, when her little sock fell down because it was crammed so full of goodies. Then she remembered her mother's promise and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book. She knew it very well, for it was that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived.
Little Women begins at Christmastime, and this bildungsroman is the perfect pick for getting into the true spirit of the holiday season (though Jo and Laurie rip my heart out every time I read it).
2. The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
And then she saw that there was a light ahead of her; not a few inches away where the back of the wardrobe ought to have been, but a long way off. Something cold and soft was falling on her. A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air.
Is there a more wintry picture than the image of Lucy Pevensie, walking through a wardrobe, into the enchanted and snowy world of Narnia? NO THERE IS NOT.
3. Emma by Jane Austen
At Christmas every body invites their friends and thinks little of even the worst weather.
4. Anne Of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Anne took the dress and looked at it in reverent silence. Oh, how pretty it was — a lovely soft brown gloria with all the gloss of silk; a skirt with dainty frills and shirrings; a waist elaborately pintucked in the most fashionable way, with a little ruffle of filmy lace at the neck. But the sleeves — they were the crowning glory! Long elbow cuffs, and above them two beautiful puffs divided by rows of shirring and bows of brown-silk ribbon.
Anne's reaction at receiving a puff-sleeve dress for Christmas is the most adorable thing ever. I can only hope everyone I bought holiday gifts for will love them that much.
5. Little House On The Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Something was shining bright in the top of Laura's stocking. She squealed and jumped out of bed. So did Mary, but Laura beat her to the fireplace. And the shining thing was a glittering new tin cup.
When I was younger, reading this scene made me believe that there could be nothing better to receive as a holiday gift than a NEW TIN CUP. The excitement!
6. Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Christmas-Eve came, and a party that Boldwood was to give in the evening was the great subject of talk in Weatherbury. It was not that the rarity of Christmas parties in the parish made this one a wonder, but that Boldwood should be the giver.
The climax of this pastoral love story happens at Christmastime, and the tale harkening back to a simpler time is a perfect read for the holidays.
7. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
The Herdmans were like most big families – the big ones taught the little ones everything they knew... and the proof of that was that the meanest Herdman of all was Gladys, the youngest. The kids in the neighborhood figured they were headed straight for hell by way of the state penitentiary... until they got themselves mixed up with the church and the annual Christmas pageant.
I'm going to count this book as a classic, because to me it's definitely a childhood classic at the very least. This was one of my favorites growing up, and the story of the Herdman family infiltrating the local Christmas pageant is a must-read come holiday time.
8. Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
129 lbs. (but post-Christmas), alcohol units 14 (but effectively covers 2 days as 4 hours of party was on New Year's Day), cigarettes 22, calories 5424.
If you're always thinking of resolutions come holiday time, Bridget Jones's Diary is the perfect classic to read. Hilarious and sweet, this book — and the awesome movie — are perfectly festive.
9. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
We got rid of all gloom in the excitement of the exercise, and our pleasure was increased by the arrival of the Gimmerton band, mustering fifteen strong: a trumpet, a trombone, clarionets, bassoons, French horns, and a bass viol, besides singers. They go the rounds of all the respectable houses, and receive contributions every Christmas, and we esteemed it a first-rate treat to hear them. After the usual carols had been sung, we set them to songs and glees.
Though this book isn't the most cheerful, the holiday scenes provide a glimmer of light in an otherwise tragic love story. For those who want to celebrate AND wallow... this is the perfect classic!
10. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes / Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated, / This bird of dawning singeth all night long; / And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad, / The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike, / No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm, / So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.
Hamlet paints a rather haunting portrait of holiday time, but peaceful nonetheless. And what better way to celebrate the holidays than with a good old-fashioned ghost story? If anything, it'll make you realize that your family's not so bad, after all...
11. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.
It may be the typical choice, but there's a reason this book is so popular: it perfectly encapsulates the sentiment of being kind and generous — from the holidays on.
Image: Columbia Pictures