I wrote the bulk of the following post before the recent attack on a Christmas market in Berlin. I was planning a jolly, festive post, full of Christmas cheer … which, in the circumstances, hardly seems appropriate. Of course, life must go on, along with all the activities that make up a life – reading being one of them. And, given the state of the world, you might as well forget about it all for a few hours by losing yourself in a book. So I decided – not without some misgivings – to publish the post after all, and hope that nobody thinks it’s deeply insensitive…
In the face of cruelty and terror, small moments of pleasure seem doubly precious. I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
Christmas is a good time to curl up with a book. After all, it’s cold outside, the days are short and, since most of us get at least some time off work for Christmas, we have a bit more time on our hands than usual. What better way to enjoy the festive season than with some Christmassy reads?
Here are some of the best that I’m aware of (there are undoubtedly others; if you know of any, please leave a comment).
A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.
Okay, we might as well kick off with the really obvious one. Most people have at least heard of Dickens’ villain Ebenezer Scrooge, a man so nasty that he actually hates Christmas! Luckily, a visit from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future help Scrooge to mend his ways in time for the festivities.
The Box of Delights, by John Masefield
“Christmas ought to be brought up to date,” Maria said. “It ought to have gangsters, and aeroplanes and a lot of automatic pistols.”
This one’s got it all: a snowy English setting, a magical box, wandering Punch and Judy men, wolves, criminal gangs, Roman soldiers, the legendary Herne the Hunter … Surreal? Just a bit.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, by Simon Armitage
And wonder, dread and war / have lingered in that land / where loss and love in turn / have held the upper hand.
This tale, based upon the 14th century poem by that magnificent author “Unknown”, tells of the eponymous Sir Gawain’s pursuit of the Green Knight, who he beheaded the year before. If pagan, Yuletide themes of sacrifice and life in the midst of death appeal, this is probably the book for you.
The Snowman, by Raymond Briggs
A book that proves that a picture really can be worth a thousand words.
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: or Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas, by Clement C. Moore
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.
Moore’s wonderful poem plays upon the excitement and magic of Christmastime, as well as giving the figure of St. Nicholas a makeover. The Santa Claus we know and love today – red velvet clobber, reindeer, and sleigh – ultimately owes his existence to Moore’s imaginative reconstruction.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
Always winter, but never Christmas.
An all-time children’s classic, Lewis’s book plugs into what is surely every child’s dream: finding a secret realm in the midst of grey reality, a place that adults cannot reach and where magic is a simple reality.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! By Dr. Seuss
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
A tale about festive cheer, love and the supposed true meaning of Christmas, this is a tonic for Scrooges everywhere. Christmas isn’t just about insane consumerism, you see: it’s all about the joy of giving and of being close to loved ones! Aww.
The 101 Dalmations, by Dodie Smith
Now, carols are always beautiful, but if you are sad they can make you feel sadder.
Cuddly puppies, a wicked plot, and one of the ultimate villainesses of all time in the unforgettable shape of Cruella de Vil … what more do you want out of life?
A Child’s Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas
It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas.
Thomas’s memories of growing up and celebrating Christmas in Wales inform this book, which is full of nostalgia for a simpler past. It’s a glimpse back in time to the days when kids didn’t need playstations and TVs to have fun.
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, by Agatha Christie
Ah, but you must have a Christmas uncomplicated by murder.
There’s been a devilishly clever Christmastime murder, and who could possibly solve it except Christie’s dapper Belgian detective? Poirot is the kind of person you just never want to play Cluedo with…