Some books simply beg to be read by a cosy nook, with hot chocolate or mulled wine. Whether re-read alone or read out loud to your children, here are some of our picks for the best books this festive season
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
No list of Christmas books will be complete without the classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. Endlessly adapted for modern times in movies, film and animation, Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella tells the story of the elderly miser, whose meanness and grouchy disposition made him widely hated, and coining the term “Bah, humbug!”. His tale begins on Christmas Eve, when he refuses a dinner with his nephew, and begrudgingly allows his one staff a day off for Christmas.
During the night, he is visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, and the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. The spirits show him the error of his ways, terrifying him with his grim future where he is dead, unloved and thoroughly despised. Upon awakening on Christmas day, Scrooge is a changed man, and vows to change his ways. This story is beloved for its message of change, of hope and redemption, and makes it a perfect tale to tell.
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
Yes, we know this is technically a children’s book. But this magical tale of a boy who boards a train bound for the North Pole is suitable for all ages, if only to remind us of the magic that lives within each and every one of us. First published in 1985, we may know this book more as a film starring Tom Hanks, directed by award-winning director Robert Zemeckis (and with music by Alan Silvestri, of course), but the story is the same. A young boy, sceptical of the existence of Santa Claus, sees a strange steam locomotive arrive on the street, and goes outside to examine it.
The conductor introduces the train as the Polar Express, bound for the North Pole. Initially reluctant, the boy jumps aboard as the train departs. There, he embarks on numerous adventures, dangers and excitement, before finally arriving in the North Pole, where Santa Claus gives him first pick of a gift — any gift he could desire. He chooses a bell that fell off one of the reindeer, and is told the bell will only be heard by those who truly believe in Santa. Years on, even when he is old and grey, and as everyone around him falls deaf to the bell, he never stops hearing the chime of the bell.
SEE:Home for the Holidays
Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R Tolkien
We all know English fantasy author J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy — perhaps the finest books of fantasy ever written. While his more famous works are also wonderful books to read this Christmas, Letters from Father Christmas is a charming collection of letters that Tolkien wrote to his children every year, for Christmas.
The letters tell tales from the North Pole, presumably from Father Christmas. These letters will regale his children about the mischief the reindeer got up to, the misadventures of the North Pole Bear, and of troublesome goblins. Wonderfully written, beautifully illustrated, this is a fine addition to your festive reading repertoire.
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
Not technically a book, but a short story by American author William Sydney Potter (writing as O.Henry), The Gift of the Magi tells of a poor young couple who wished to buy each other gifts for Christmas, only to realise the depth of their love and sacrifice for one another. It tells of Della Young, who sells her long, beautiful hair for money to buy her husband, Jim, a pocket watch chain.
Happy that she had gotten him a chain for his beautiful silver pocket watch (which he got from his father), she tells him that she had sold her hair, only to have him present her his gift: a set of ornamental hair combs, which she has long admired. Trouble is, he had sold his pocket watch for those combs.
As such, Jim and Della are left with gifts that they cannot use but in the process realise how priceless their love really is. It is a tale that has often been told as an example of irony, but that would be missing the point of this story: that you would do anything for the person you loved.
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A classic children’s tale, A Little Princess is British-American author, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s most beloved children book. It is the coming-of-age story of Sara Crewe, a girl whose untimely death of her father changes her fortunes drastically.
From being a wealthy “princess” in a boarding school, run with military brutality by its headmistress, Miss Minchin, to a scullery maid (little more than a slave), Sara overcomes her grief and strives to be a light no matter how dark her world becomes. With her imagination and an innate magic within her, her seemingly tragic tale does have a happy ending, and this makes A Little Princess a wonderful book to read during this festive season.
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
Here’s one for the grown-ups (and for big kids too!): A Christmas murder mystery by none other than Agatha Christie herself. Here, the famed author’s fictional Belgian detective Hercule Poirot takes on a mysterious murder in the Lee family that happens on Christmas Eve. In Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, the detective is staying nearby in a quaint village with a friend over Christmas, when he hears of the death of multi-millionaire Simeon Lee, who, although frail in his old age, unexpectedly invites his family to gather at his home for Christmas.
The tyrannical and cold Simeon had called his family together to announce an ‘update’ to his will; a fact met with anger by his estranged family. However, after their Christmas Eve dinner, a loud crash and a scream is heard upstairs in Simeon’s locked room, only to reveal the dead body of Simeon, his throat slit. Poirot offers to help solve the murder, but there is certainly more than meets the eye. Indeed, this book is one of Christie’s best, albeit underrated novels.