Anne here (with reindog), thinking about Christmas, in particular Christmas stories and books I have loved. Some of these stories were an integral part of my family Christmas traditions, and others I came to as an adult.
1. The Good Little Christmas Tree
My all time favorite Christmas picture book, by Ursula Moray Williams. Ours was my mother's copy, an old, battered, much beloved first edition, with illustrations made of papercuts, done by the author herself. Each year, as the story was read and reread, I'd marvel over the bright, bold, beautiful illustrations, made simply by cutting bits of paper. I'm sure I tried to make my own paper pictures, but nothing came close.
And the story itself is lovely. It's about a poor peasant family – a mother, father and a boy and a girl, who have never had a Christmas tree before. After the children are asleep, the father brings out a little Christmas tree, and the mother bakes cookies to hang on the tree, but that's all they have to decorate it, so they're a bit sad.
In the night, the little Christmas tree goes in search of things to make him more beautiful and make the poor family happy. He meets all kinds or people and creatures, and bit by bit he trades cookies and pine needles and branches for things to make him a worthy Christmas tree — icicles, bright toadstools, diamonds, a toy for each of the children, etc. But by the time he's traded everything, he is a poor ragged tree and is too ashamed to return.
He meets St Nicholas, and begs him to take off all the pretty things and give them to another tree, so that the good family will not be disappointed. But St. Nicholas touches him, and all his branches and pine-needles grow back and he looks beautiful.(I always tear up at this point) St Nicholas leads him home in a beautiful procession.
Do you know the story by Charles Tazewell? It's about the donkey who carries Mary to Bethlehem. We had a scratchy old recording of Bing Crosby reading this story, and, it being about a donkey — and I was very fond of donkeys — I loved it. We'd put the record on after dinner, when it was quiet, with the Christmas tree lights blinking and the tinsel gleaming, and just listen.You can read it here.
3. The Littlest Angel
Another gorgeous story by Charles Tazewell — we had this one as a book, I think. I remember my dad reading it. Mum sometimes read it, too, but she always got choked up. Something I never realized then, was that the story was published after World War Two, when so many people were grieving for their lost sons and would be remembering them as little boys, which makes the story that much more poignant.
4. The Night Before Christmas
This classic, by Clement C. Moore, was always recited, usually by my father, sometimes interspersed with verses by my mother, and we children grew to know it too, and join in. I always imagined the "visions of sugar plums" as ballet dancers dancing the nutcracker suite, for some reason.
5. The Father Christmas Letters
This is a collection of the letters J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to his children as Father Christmas. Delightful letters from the North Pole written in dark spidery writing, with beautiful and sometimes funny illustrations also done by Tolkien. I discovered this book when I was at university and I fell in love with it completely.
6. A Christmas Carol
I can't remember a time I didn't know this story by Charles Dickens, but it took on another special meaning when I began teaching adults how to read. I used to run a "book club" for adults learning to read — there were people in it aged 16 to 82 years. Some were young tearaway teens, some had been born overseas and never had any schooling in English (and often not their first language, too) and some people had simply never learned to read in school.
We used to read an abridged version of this story together, and the kick they got from reading it, and gradually realizing they'd seen this in movies, and working out all the references in popular culture that came from a man born almost 200 years ago — and it was still a fantastic story — well, it made the reading of this book each year very special.
7. A Child's Christmas in Wales
It's by the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. I'm told the very best way to hear this story is to hear a recording of Dylan Thomas himself reading it — or at the very least a good Welsh actor. It has the lushest language. Here's an example:
All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.
And thus the story starts… You can read it here.
8. The Gift of the Magi
O. Henry's short story. I read it with my classes each year and each year the women get choked up and the men harrumph a lot and pretend not to be choked up, too.You can read it here.
Terry Pratchett's 20th Discworld novel. It's the perfect book to listen to as you drive to and from your family Christmas gathering. An antidote to all the sugary stuff, this is the story of how the Auditors plot to assassinate the Hogfather because he doesn't fit into their view of How The World Should Be. The Hogfather goes into hiding, and Death temporarily takes on his role, dressed in a long red robe. I won't explain much more, except to say it's very funny, especially if you're a devotee (as I am) of Pratchett's disc world series. If not, you might find it slightly bewildering at first, but hang in there — you'll soon be addicted.
So that's 9 favorite books of mine. I know I've left out plenty, so I'm leaving the #10 spot for you all to suggest one (or more) of your favorite Christmas stories.