When you think of Christmas literature, it’s almost inevitable that the names Charles Dickens, C. S. Lewis and H. C. Andersen spring to mind, closely followed by their dust-covered, dilapidated book-spines sitting cosily on an untouched bookshelf. While these books serve a meaningful purpose as symbols of the Christmas canon, there exists a multitude of expansive, compelling and thought-provoking festive titles that rarely get a look in. From the dimly-lit streets of post-war Amsterdam to the bucolic Russian steppe by way of the American Midwest, here are 11 titles about Christmas, that look at the festive period with witty insight and panoramic perspective.
The Evenings by Gerard Reve
A long-forgotten and rediscovered Dutch masterpiece, Reve’s The Evenings was finally translated into English for the first time in 2016. Following the mundane wanderings of 23-year-old Frits van Egters towards the end 1946, the work is a comical, deadpan portrayal of suburban inertia, which also ponders some of life’s more unanswerable questions.
The Map and the Territory byMichel Houellebecq
Christmas by Vladimir Nabokov
Christmas is one of Nabokov’s more saccharine pieces of prose about a father’s grief following the death of his son. With exquisite pastoral descriptions, young love and a twist involving an Attacus moth, this short story is exemplary of Nabokov’s emotional and linguistic lucidity.
Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris
David Sedaris’ collection of holiday-themed stories are a welcome exploration into the darker shades of festive cheer. Supposedly based on his own experiences in retail (though this is highly disputed), Santaland Diaries remains a stalwart member of the anti-Christmas canon.
Santa Claus: A Morality byE.E.Cummings
Best known for his experimental poetry on love and existence, E. E. Cummings’ more terrestrial play Santa Claus: A Morality, explores the scarcity of love in an increasingly materialist world. Inspired by the writer’s own reunion with his daughter, the work’s ultimate gesture is one of affection, with a touch of festive warmth.
A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
Capote’s short story A Christmas Memory follows the Harold and Maude-esque friendship of a young boy and his elderly cousin, in the run up to Christmas. Largely autobiographical, A Christmas Memory is a touching exploration of adventure, joy, mourning and melancholia.
Christmas DaysbyJeanette Winterson
Arguably the most traditional Christmas book on the list, Jeanette Winterson – known for Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit and Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal – weaves charm and surprise into her 12 stories of Christmas. Fittingly, each story is accompanied by a literary themed festive recipe, such as Mrs Winterson’s Mince Pies and Kathy Acker’s New York Custard.
The Twelve Terrors of Christmas byJohn Updike
To continue the theme of the dozen, Updike’s The Twelve Terrors of Christmas is an original and witty take on a festive anthology, with amusing meditations on everything from the concept of Santa to the fear of not giving or receiving enough, and eerie illustrations from Edward Gorey.
The Corrections byJonathan Franzen
Winning the National Book Award in 2001, Franzen’s The Corrections was described by leading critic James Wood as a more ‘human’ version of DeLillo’s acclaimed American novel, Underworld. Converging at one last Christmas gathering at the turn of the Millenium, Franzen’s work plots the arrivals and departures of one Midwestern family in the U.S.A, while providing a deeper social commentary on a growing sense of unease and anxiety in certain American communities.
On Christmas: A Seasonal Anthology byGyles Brandreth
Notting Hill Editions have put together a beautifully bound festive book, comprising an anthology of some of the most compelling essays about Christmas from around the world. From Dickens, to Wodehouse to Ali Smith, and with an introduction by Gyles Brandreth, On Christmas is a perfect dose of literary relief during the Christmas period.
The Beggar Boy at Christ’s Christmas Tree byFyodor Dostoevsky
The Russian author is perhaps not known for his shorter literary vignettes, but The Beggar Boy at Christ’s Christmas Tree is a touching story about a poverty-stricken young boy finding salvation at Christmas. The very first line “I am a novelist, and I suppose I have made up this story”, also provides an intriguing layer to the prose, as we are simultaneously persuaded and dissuaded of the work’s reality.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.