When I was growing up, my family had a vast collection of Christmas stories, and bringing out the heavy box of books was the official start of the season. While we were curled up with some hot cocoa and a classic tale of magic and wonder, the Christmas spirit was never brighter. Here's a list of 12 memorable holiday tales, from old classics to newer favorites.
1) "The Nutcracker," E.T.A. Hoffmann (1816)
Most people are familiar with the classic ballet by Tchaikovsky; however, the book contains more storylines than the ballet. This is also a relatively long book -- over 100 pages. Reading "The Nutcracker" to younger children (or to yourself) in small pieces over the course of a few weeks could be a great lead-up to Christmas Day.
2) "A Visit from St. Nicholas," Clement Clarke Moore (1823)
"'Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro' the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse." This ubiquitous poem taught me about sugarplums and that if I listen hard enough on Christmas Eve, I may hear the clatter of a sleigh and eight reindeer on my roof.
3) "A Christmas Carol," Charles Dickens (1843)
Variations of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge have infiltrated our lexicon so completely that you might forget the novella that started it all. Dickens' tale of greed and redemption is part Halloween, part Christmas and all nostalgia.
4) "The Little Match Girl," Hans Christian Andersen (1845)
If you are in the mood for a good cry this Christmas, Andersen's endearing story of a poor girl selling matches on a freezing New Year's Eve is perfect. As she strikes each match to abate the cold, visions of happiness, family and warmth abound. It's a great reminder that even a small match is something for which to be thankful.
5) "The Tailor of Gloucester," Beatrix Potter (1903)
The author of "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" pens a great story of kindness begetting kindness. After falling ill, the old tailor is unable to finish a waistcoat for the mayor on his Christmas wedding day. Some kind mice living in the tailor's shop decide to help out the old man, who has always been kind to them.
6) "The Gift of the Magi," O. Henry (1905)
For anyone who has looked in the bank -- piggy or otherwise -- to only find a meager sum, Christmas can seem challenging. Despite scrimping and saving, Della has only $1.87 for husband Jim's Christmas gift. In O. Henry's take on selflessness, Della and Jim prove to be the wisest fools.
7) "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!", Dr. Seuss (1957)
"The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason." Dr. Seuss' gorgeously illustrated and imaginatively written children's book will open the eyes and strengthen the hearts of even the grouchiest, grumpiest Grinch.
8) "The Polar Express," Chris Van Allsburg (1985)
Be sure to sew all your broken pockets before boarding a train set for the North Pole. By choosing to board The Polar Express, a young boy, entertaining the idea that Santa Claus does not exist, chooses to believe in magic and is rewarded with a simple, enduring lesson on belief.
9) "Merry Christmas, Amelia Bedelia," Peggy Parish (1986)
I've always been a fan of slapstick comedy, something Amelia Bedelia and Lucille Ball instilled in me at a young age. Perfect for first- or second-graders, this short story is a great introduction to metaphors and idioms. Amelia Bedelia tries to get the Rogerses' house ready for a holiday visit; however, her tendency to take directions literally makes things messy.
10) "The Legend of the Poinsettia," Tomie dePaola (1993)
Ever wonder how the poinsettia came to be associated with Christmas? In this Mexican legend, Lucinda is a young girl trying to help her sick mother weave a blanket for the Christ child. When Lucinda is unable to finish in time, she makes a blanket of green weeds instead. The weeds blossom into beautiful poinsettias, illustrating how beauty is everywhere.
11) "The Farolitos of Christmas," Rudolfo Anaya (1995)
It is Christmastime in New Mexico, and for you to be visited by the local priest on Christmas, lights must line your home. With her grandfather ill and her father wounded from the war, young Luz makes paper lanterns, or farolitos, to illuminate the path -- for both the priest and her returning father.
12) "A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree," Colleen Monroe (2000)
For any kid picked last in gym class, this one is for you. A Christmas take on "The Ugly Duckling," this book has a protagonist that is an unwanted pine tree. He desperately wishes to be picked as a Christmas tree. With the help of woodland creatures, he unexpectedly sees his dream come true.