My Favorite Christmas Reads

My favorite Christmas Reads

My family is not very religious, so we never really did the Advent calendar thing when I was growing up. Instead, as a family of incorrigible bookworms (and environmentalists), we saved our used wrapping paper from unwrapping presents and used it to wrap up our Christmas book collection, which was then put away for the year and brought back out again on December 1st. Starting that evening, we would unwrap one or two books per night until Christmas, and read them aloud together to start getting into the Christmas spirit.

Much like real Christmas presents, there was always much poking around to try and figure out what was what (in the intervening 12 months, we always forgot what paper had gone with what book) so we could unwrap our favorites sooner. Here are some of the books that I was always trying to find:

8. Noelle of the Nutcracker, by Pamela Jane

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I studied ballet for ten years as a girl and loved this Christmas story about a young girl who falls in love with a doll who, unbeknownst to her, has dreams of her own: ballet superstardom.

7. The Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear, by Stan and Jan Berenstain

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My favorite of the Berenstain Bears books, and one of the most touching of the series.

6. Morris’s Disappearing Bag, by Rosemary Wells

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This was one of my favorite Christmas books when I was a young child, but then it disappeared – maybe lost during a move? I never knew what became of our original copy, but I was thrilled to stumble across a copy in a bookstore a few years ago and snapped it up immediately for my own children. It’s a funny story about four rabbit siblings on Christmas Day who learn the importance of sharing with the little ones. I do have to confess that it gave little-girl-me a fairly inaccurate impression of what, precisely, it was possible to accomplish with a chemistry set, which resulted in a bit of a letdown when I finally got a real one.

5. The Story of Holly and Ivy, by Rumer Godden

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A heart-warming story about wishes, and how the magic of Christmas can help them come true. Beautifully illustrated by one of my favorite illustrators, Barbara Cooney.

4. The Nutcracker, by E.T.A. Hoffman

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In addition to our various family Christmas traditions, I also had an annual Christmas tradition of my own when I was a teenager: listening to this audiobook. Hoffman’s original story is much darker and more romantic than the sanitized version presented in the classic ballet and here it is deliciously narrated by legendary actor Christopher Plummer and set to the score of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson-Thomas. It’s one of my favorite audiobook performances ever, and I consider it a tremendous shame that it has never been released in audio CD or digital form.

3. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski

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This book was one of the last additions to our Christmas book collection before I left for college – I was well into my teens when it was published. However, it became an instant family favorite. It’s a touching story about a grouchy woodcarver who is transformed by the kindness and curiosity of a widow and her son, who commission him to carve a nativity scene to replace a missing family heirloom. It was also my first introduction to the illustrations of PJ Lynch, who has since become one of my favorite children’s book illustrators

2. The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg

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My second favorite Christmas book ever is this beautifully illustrated classic about a boy taken on a magical train ride to the North Pole, where he meets Santa Claus and receives the first gift of Christmas. In addition to their hardcover copy, my parents also had a cassette tape of the story read by William Hurt, and it was our tradition to listen to it after dinner on Christmas Eve.

And last (but not least):

1. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson

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A humorous, yet heart-warming story about the six Herdman children (“the worst kids in the history of the world”) and what happened when they landed all six of the lead roles in a church Christmas pageant. Although this is a children’s book, I honestly find it just as funny and even more touching as an adult than I did as a child, and it remains my favorite Christmas book of all time.

What are your favorite Christmas books?