Have a literary Christmas!
Many famous poets and writers have written Christmas stories and poems, and I’ve rounded up 19 of the best of them. In addition, I’ve provided a link for each one so that you can read them online. Lastly, there’s a YouTube video for most of them so you can watch and listen, if you prefer.
1. Papa Panov’s Special Christmas by Leo Tolstoy
Papa Panov’s Special Christmas was written by the great Russian author Leo Tolstoy. Papa Panov is an elderly cobbler living in a small village in Russia. His Christmas wish is to give the Christ child the finest pair of shoes he’s ever made. On Christmas Eve Jesus comes to him in a dream and tells him that he will come to visit Papa Panov on Christmas day. What follows is Papa Panov’s most joyful Christmas as he learns that the best way to celebrate the Savior’s birth is by doing good for others. You can read the story online here (and there’s an analysis of the story here).
2. The Beggar Boy at Christ’s Christmas Tree by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Tolstoy wasn’t the only famous Russian author to write Christmas stories. Fyodor Dostoevsky and Anton Chekhov did as well.
Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote a story called The Beggar Boy at Christ’s Christmas Tree. It starts in a dark, freezing, miserable hovel in Petersburg. A six year-old boy dressed in rags sits alone next to his mother who has just died. He’s nearly starving, so he goes out in search of food.
As he walks through the empty streets he looks into the houses and sees that they are filled with happy children celebrating Christmas. He knocks on several doors, but no one lets him in. Frightened by some older boys, the little boy takes refuge in a yard behind a pile of wood. There, he freezes to death.
However, before dying the little boy dreams of the party of Christ’s Christmas tree, a party for all the child-victims of social injustice. There, he’s reunited with this mother, and they both join the festivities and are filled with joy. You can read The Beggar Boy at Christ’s Christmas Tree online here.
3. At Christmas Time by Anton Chekhov
Anton Chekhov’s At Christmas Time was published in 1900 and is recognized today as a Christmas classic. Just like Dostoevsky’s short story above, it’s a departure from the typical tale of Christmas sweetness.
The story begins with an illiterate Russian peasant woman hiring a man to write a letter to her daughter whom she has not heard from in four years. While it’s a sad story, it reminds us to be grateful for what we have. You can read At Christmas Time online here.
You can find more Russian Christmas stories in “A Very Russian Christmas: The Greatest Russian Holiday Stories of All Time“.
4. The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter
The Tailor of Gloucester is a children’s book written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter. It’s about a tailor in Gloucester who gets sick and is unable to complete a waistcoat commissioned by the mayor for his wedding on Christmas Day.
However, on Christmas morning the tailor enters his shop to discover that the waistcoat was finished by the grateful mice he saved from his cat. You can purchase the fully illustrated book here. In addition, you can listen to the story being read on YouTube:
5. A Christmas Inspiration by Lucy Maud Montgomery
A Christmas Inspiration is by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery, best known for her novel Anne of Green Gables. It’s a story about five girls who have to spend Christmas at the boarding-house they’re staying at.
The girls happily discuss all of the presents they received for Christmas. However, it’s when they decide to buy gifts for someone who doesn’t seem to have a friend in the world that they discover that it’s more blessed to give than to receive. You can read it here or listen to it below:
“A Christmas Inspiration” is one of the short stories collected in “Christmas With Anne and Other Holiday Stories“.
6. A Letter From Santa Claus by Mark Twain
In 1875 Mark Twain wrote a letter to his three-year-old daughter, Susie Clemens, which he sent as Santa Claus. You can read Twain’s charming letter here. You can also listen to it below:
7. A Country Christmas by Louisa May Alcott
A Country Christmas was written by Louisa May Alcott. She is, of course, the author of the beloved novel Little Women (incidentally, the first two chapters of Little Women are set at Christmas time).
However, a lot of people don’t know that she also wrote several short stories and poems about Christmas. One of May Alcott’s Christmas stories is titled A Country Christmas.
Sophie is the protagonist of A Country Christmas. She lives in a big city with her guardian, but decides to visit her Aunt Plumy and Aunt Plumy’s two grown children–Saul and Ruth–around Christmastime. They live on a modest farm in Vermont and life is much slower there.
Sophie gets Aunt Plumy’s permission to invite two friends to visit for Christmas. She shows them “a real old-fashioned frolic” as it’s done in the country. You can read A Country Christmas online here.
8. Tilly’s Christmas by Louisa May Alcott
Another lovely Christmas story by May Alcott is Tilly’s Christmas, which is very short and can be read in just a few minutes. It’s about an impoverished girl and her mother who are facing a bleak Christmas.
However, they’re both good people who always try to do kind things for others, and their goodness is repaid when a stranger leaves gifts at their doorstep for them to find on Christmas Eve. You can read Tilly’s Christmas online here. In addition, most of May Alcott’s Christmas writings have been collected in the book Louisa May Alcott’s Christmas Treasury.
9. On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity by John Milton
The English poet John Milton is best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost. On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity was written in 1629, while Milton was still a student at the University of Cambridge. It’s one of the four poems by Milton that are to be read on Day 2 of The Harvard Classics.
You can listen to it being read below:
10. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
The Gift of the Magi is a beautiful Christmas story written by O. Henry–a well known American short story writer. I’ve been hearing this story since I was a little girl.
It’s about a young married couple who love each other very much but can barely make ends meet. They each sacrifice their most treasured possession to be able to buy the other one a gift for Christmas. The story has a surprise ending, which is something that O. Henry was known for.
You can read The Gift of the Magi online here. You can also listen to it below:
11. Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Christmas Bells is an inspiring poem by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He wrote it on Christmas Day in 1863, during the American Civil War.
The poem tells of the narrator’s despair, upon hearing Christmas bells, that “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men”. Nonetheless, the poem concludes on a hopeful note. The bells ring even more loudly with their message of peace on earth.
You can read Christmas Bells online here.
12. The Three Kings by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Wadsworth Longfellow wrote another beautiful Christmas poem titled The Three Kings which you can read online here. It’s a classic telling of the three wise men’s visit to the baby Jesus shortly after he’s born. You can listen to it being read below:
13. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore is the quintessential Christmas poem. The poem is largely responsible for a lot of the concepts that we have about Santa Claus today. You can read it online here. In addition, listen to it below.
14. A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
A Christmas Memory is a semi-autobiographical short story written by Truman Capote, author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
In A Christmas Memory, an orphaned seven year-old boy, referred to as “Buddy”, lives in rural Alabama with his elderly cousin who is eccentric and childlike (and was thought to be retarded by many people). They also live with other relatives who “often make them cry”.
Every year in November, when the weather gets cold, the elderly lady announces:
“It’s fruitcake weather.”
Then, she and buddy gather all of the ingredients necessary for making fruitcakes. They gather wild pecans and finance everything else they need with money they carefully save throughout the year. After four days of baking, their fruitcakes are ready for delivery to friends—“persons we’ve met maybe once, perhaps not at all”.
Buddy and his cousin undertake other adventures together. Unfortunately, the special relationship Buddy shares with his cousin comes to end when he’s sent away to military school, and then to a different home. Although they initially write to each other, the cousin gets dementia a few years later and dies shortly after that.
You can read the story online here. A Christmas Memory was adapted for television by Truman Capote and Eleanor Perry. The production starred Geraldine Page and Truman Capote was the narrator. You can watch it below:
15. The Dead by James Joyce
The Dead is from Dubliners, a collection of short stories written by James Joyce. Joyce’s most important work, Ulysses, is a difficult read. Therefore, most people will want to become acquainted with Joyce by reading The Dead, which is much more accessible.
The setting of the story is the annual dance and dinner party held by Kate and Julia Morkan and their young niece, Mary Jane Morkan. It’s at or just before the feast of the Epiphany on January 6, which celebrates the manifestation of Christ’s divinity to the Magi. The party draws together a variety of relatives and friends.
The central themes of the story are mortality and isolation. However, there is also much joy in The Dead, as the financially comfortable characters celebrate the holiday season. You can read it online here. In addition, you can watch a movie based on the story below.
16. The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen
Hans Christian Andersen is a Danish author best remembered for his fairy tales, such as The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid. He also wrote several Christmas stories, the most beloved of which is titled, The Little Match Girl. It’s about a little girl sent out into the cold by her abusive father to sell matches.
Although she tries her best, everyone in the street rushes by and ignores her and she’s unable to sell any matches. When it gets dark, she’s afraid to go home since her father will beat her for not having earned any money. Therefore, she sits in a corner of an imposing stone building.
She lights a match to get some warmth, and a glorious vision of a Christmas tree appears. The vision fades away when the match burns out. The little girl lights a second match and a Christmas feast appears before her. This feast dies too, with the match. The third time she lights a match, her beloved, deceased grandmother appears and the little girl runs into her arms.
The next morning, the little girl’s body is found. She had frozen to death.
You can read it online here. In addition, watch the adaptation of The Little Match Girl, below (and if you don’t cry when you see this, I’m afraid that your heart is made of stone):
17. The Fir Tree by Hans Christian Andersen
The Fir Tree is another Christmas story by Hans Christian Andersen. It’s a tale about a fir tree that is so anxious to grow up, and so eager for greater things, that he cannot appreciate living in the moment. He doesn’t understand how good he has it until it’s too late.
You can read The Fir Tree online here. Or, you can watch a sweet little comic based on The Fir Tree below.
18. Is There a Santa Claus? by Frank Church
Francis Pharcellus Church was an American publisher and editor. He was a lead editorial writer in his brother’s newspaper, the New York Sun, a prominent New York newspaper at the time. It was in that capacity that in 1897 he wrote an editorial answering the question of an eight year-old girl named Virginia.
The girl asked, “Is there a Santa Claus?” Church’s answer is now a part of Christmas history. Here’s part of Church’s response:
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias.”
You can read the entire editorial online here. In addition, you can listen to it below. Finally, the editorial was turned into a made-for-TV movie, which you can watch here (it’s definitely worth watching).
19. A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas
A Child’s Christmas in Wales is a prose work by Dylan Thomas, one of the most important Welsh poets of the 20th century. It’s a nostalgic retelling of Christmases past. Although nothing dramatic happens in this story, it’s a lovely read. Here’s a quote from the end of the story:
“Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steadily falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and I then slept.”
You can read it here. A Child’s Christmas in Wales was turned into a TV movie which you can watch below (I highly recommend you watch this):
I hope these Christmas stories and poems by famous authors made you feel joy, love for friends and family, compassion, and nostalgia. That is, the emotions of Christmas. In addition, by reading these stories and poems you’ll be a little more well-read by the end of the year.
Live your best life by having a literary Christmas.