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Literary Christmas Traditions: Celebrating with Books and Letters

By Leah Dobrinska. Dec 25, 2014. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Children's Books, Christmas Books

Traditions abound during the Christmas season. Some people carol, others sled. Some vacation, others stay close to home. Many celebrate with a church community or eat a holiday meal with family and friends. Perhaps most appropriately - especially here in this bookish corner of the internet - is the fact that for many people, Christmas traditions center around books and storytelling.

night_before_christmas_PDWhen December rolls around, snuggling around the fireplace and listening to a retelling of The Night Before Christmas makes for a perfect evening. Sitting in the kitchen and laughing as older family members regale younger ones with stories of Christmases past, all while cooking a favorite dish from a timeless recipe book, is yet another example of the charm the season brings.

Yes, Christmas seems to bring out the best in people and in books. And Christmas as portrayed in the some of the classic works of literature is enough to put even the biggest grinch in a festive mood.

Who can forget Christmas as portrayed in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women? The March girls exemplify the spirit of giving. How perfect, too, that the girls’ Christmas gifts from their mother are little books! What’s more, Alcott superbly conveys the warmness felt in having family close while at the same time depicting the longing for loved ones who are away - a sentiment to which many can relate around the holidays.

Likewise, Charles DickensA Christmas Carol, and its exploration of compassion, isolation, and--ultimately--transformation, proves a timeless holiday tale. It isn’t surprising that the book is at the top of many Christmas reading lists. As we’ve noted before, it played a huge role in rekindling the magic of the holiday season when it was first published in 1843.

If you're like me, you read to learn, to enjoy, and perhaps even to find pieces of yourself in the text and the story. Books laced with the Christmas spirit allow for an even greater source of self exploration, comfort, and all around merriment. Truly, the holidays are a great time for both reflection and fellowship, and books are an exceptional catalyst. 

Tolkien-Father-ChristmasIt is our hope this season that whether you are gifting your loved ones with books or just taking time to read some seasonal favorites, you are able to experience the magic of a book-based tradition. After all, passing on or keeping alive a love of books and storytelling is a gift more precious than silver and gold.

Have you started your own family holiday traditions with books? Take a cue from the masterful J.R.R. Tolkien. He wrote a letter to his children every year for over twenty years, all signed by “Father Christmas.” Each letter details adventures in the North Pole. They are often humorous - think reindeer breaking free and getting into all the gifts - and always endearing. Letters from Father Christmas is an exceptional compilation, and because of its length, it makes for a great read throughout the entire month of December.

I, for one, am no Tolkien, but his Christmas tradition has inspired our family to write to our daughters every year. Similarly, some families use the 24 days in December leading up to Christmas to read a different Christmas book each night. You could also wrap up twelve books and open one a day on each of the twelve days of Christmas.

We’d love to hear from you. Share your family’s Christmastime reads and traditions with us in the comments below.

Have a Merry Christmas, everyone!

Browse Christmas Books

Leah Dobrinska
Writer, editor, and lover of a good sentence, a happy ending, and the smell of books, both old and new. Enjoys reading children's lit to her daughters, home-improvement magazines with her husband, and Shakespeare by herself.


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