Books are a part of the magic that is Christmas. Some offer us comfort by capturing the chaotic yet oh-so-relatable details of festive family get-togethers. Others transport us to a place or time where Christmas magic takes on a whole new meaning. There are those that remind us of the lessons we often so easily forget amidst the madness of shopping, partying and travelling around. And then there are the books that offer us the comic relief we need to help us get through the holidays.
From bedtime stories that were read to us as children on Christmas Eve, to the novels that we like to bring out again every year – these are the most memorable Christmases in literature, revisited.
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
“Merry Christmas, little daughters! I’m glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little newborn baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there; and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?”
You can’t help but feel a wee bit guilty about ever writing out a Christmas list or eating a Pret festive sandwich when reading Little Women. From giving up their breakfast for a poorer family to going out of their way to give beloved Marmee the most thoughtful gifts, those March sisters really did teach us some lessons in what Christmas is truly about. Even the performance of Jo’s play in the front room was a 19th century version of the family all coming together on the sofa to watch a dramatic EastEnders Christmas special, right?
Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
“December 25, weight 140 pounds plus 42 mince pies. Alcohol units, oh, thousands.”
Ah, Bridget. She speaks for all of us (well, me) with the above diary entry. Turkey curry buffets, novelty reindeer jumpers, puffing away on fags and shouting “bugger off” at carollers – we’re so glad that Bridget made note of all the little things that made a middle-class Christmas in the 90s. And lest we forget that it is at her mother’s infamous turkey curry buffet that she meets Mr Darcy. She also teaches us that it is totally normal to spend New Year’s Day with your head down the toilet.
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
“’What’s today, my fine fellow.’ said Scrooge.
‘Today.’ replied the boy. ‘Why, Christmas Day.’
’It’s Christmas Day.’ said Scrooge to himself. `I haven’t missed it. The spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can.’”
Charles Dickens pretty much invented the Victorian Christmas that we still know and love today, with his tale about Ebenezer ‘bah-humbug’ Scrooge. The heart of this story is, of course, Bob Cratchit and his family – especially his sweet son Tiny Tim, who brings a tear to every eye when he blesses his food with “God bless us, everyone”. From the prize turkey feast to the dazzle of a traditional Christmas knees-up – the Dickensian festivities are infectious. And, most importantly, we wouldn’t have A Muppets Christmas Carol without this book.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K Rowling
“’I think I know who that one’s from,’ said Ron, turning a bit pink and pointing to a very lumpy parcel. ‘My mum. I told her you didn’t expect any presents and — oh, no,’ he groaned, ‘she’s made you a Weasley sweater.’ Harry had torn open the parcel to find a thick, hand-knitted sweater in emerald green and a large box of homemade fudge.”
JK Rowling gave a whole new meaning to “the magic of Christmas” with this first introduction to the wizarding world’s festive celebrations. Hogwarts at Christmas is a total dream – with snow floating down in the Great Hall, feasting on the feast of all feasts, and a log fire burning away in the common room to go and snooze off the excitement next to. But it’s the moment when Harry wakes up with his best pal Ron on Christmas Day that really tugs on the heartstrings. He opens up his first ever Christmas present – a lumpy jumper made with love by Mrs Weasley. And that’s the real magic here: family.
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4, Sue Townsend
“I went up to the bathroom and found my mother crying and running the turkey under the hot tap. She said, ‘The bloody thing won’t thaw out, Adrian. What am I going to do?’ I said, ‘Just bung it in the oven.’ So she did.”
Everybody’s favourite misunderstood, totally intellectual teenage diarist, Adrian Mole, perhaps experienced one of the most realistic Christmases in literature. His entry on this particular day sees him recall the hectic and hilarious events of the previous 24 hours, after his mum serves dinner to unexpected guests four hours late while his dad ends up drunk. We all know that feeling – of a parent acting manically and those annoying guests that just won’t leave – all too well. Also, we are obsessed that he gets Pandora a can of deodorant as her present.
The Night Before Christmas, Clement Clarke Moore
“‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…”
Nothing captures the innocent excitement of Christmas Eve quite like this classic poem. Originally penned in 1823 by Clement Clarke Moore, it is thought to be responsible for creating the vibrant picture of jolly, old St Nic that we still have in our minds today. This tale of Santa and his reindeer has been republished in many beautiful picture books, and you’ll likely have a family copy that comes out when the decorations do. It’s also part of the reason why some grown adults still leave out a glass of sherry and a mince pie… just in case (or is that just me?).
There are plenty of other great Christmas stories, and some of the Stylist staff have shared their favourites.
Digital commissioning editor Sarah’s favourite Christmas scene can be found in Every Last One by Anna Quindlen. “It’s as comforting as sitting next to a roaring fire on a winter’s evening,” she says.
Freelancer Kat said What Katy Did At School by Susan M Coolidge offers one of the most beautiful descriptions of Christmas out there.
Editor-in-chief Lisa Smorsaski went for a children’s classic with The Snowman by Raymond Briggs.
And digital editor Kayleigh, who is a horror fan, recommended the Christmas in The Shining as a “memorable” one – but it’s a far cry from the sugar plums and carolling of Dickens.
Even if you can’t quite find the time to curl up with one of these books this year, just thinking about your favourite passages will leave you with that warm, fuzzy feeling that only comes at Christmas time.
Images: Getty, various publishers