Great Literary Christmas Tales That Aren’t ‘A Christmas Carol’

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Charles Dickens has pretty much dominated the Christmas story game for the last 170 years as of this week, since that’s when his famous novella A Christmas Carol was released. To break that down: that’s 170 years of knowing you’re going to hear the story of Bob Crachet, Tiny Tim, the ghost of Jacob Marley, and, of course, Ebenezer Scrooge around this time of year. And even though A Christmas Carol might be the best example of mixing high literature with the festive season, Dickens certainly wasn’t the only writer that could write a beautiful Christmas scene. Here are a few other classic, yet underrated, Christmas tales in literature.

Washington Irving, “Old Christmas”

I do not know a grander effect of music on the moral feelings than to hear the full choir and the pealing organ performing a Christmas anthem in a cathedral, and filling every part of the vast pile with triumphant harmony.

Truman Capote, “A Christmas Memory”

Scented acres of holiday trees, prickly-leafed holly. Red berries shiny as Chinese bells: black crows swoop upon them screaming. Having stuffed our burlap sacks with enough greenery and crimson to garland a dozen windows, we set about choosing a tree. “It should be,” muses my friend, “twice as tall as a boy. So a boy can’t steal the star.” The one we pick is twice as tall as me. A brave handsome brute that survives thirty hatchet strokes before it keels with a creaking rending cry.

Leo Tolstoy, Papa Panov’s Special Christmas

It was Christmas Eve and although it was still afternoon, lights had begun to appear in the shops and houses of the little Russian village, for the short winter day was nearly over. Excited children scurried indoors and now only muffled sounds of chatter and laughter escaped from closed shutters.

Ernest Hemingway on Christmas in Paris, 1923

Paris with the snow falling. Paris with the big charcoal braziers outside the cafes, glowing red. At the cafe tables, men huddled, their coat collars turned up, while they finger glasses of grog Americain and the newsboys shout the evening papers. The buses rumble like green juggernauts through the snow that sifts down in the dusk. White house wall rise through the dusky snow. Snow is never more beautiful than in the city. It is wonderful in Paris to stand on a bridge across the Seine looking up through the softly curtaining snow past the grey bulk of the Louvre, up the river spanned by many bridges and bordered by the grey houses of old Paris to where Notre Dame squats in the dusk. It is very beautiful in Paris and very lonely at Christmas time.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

One of my most vivid memories is of coming back West from prep school and later from college at Christmas time. Those who went farther than Chicago would gather in the old dim Union Station at six o’clock of a December evening, with a few Chicago friends, already caught up into their own holiday gayeties, to bid them a hasty good-by. I remember the fur coats of the girls returning from Miss This-or-that’s and the chatter of frozen breath and the hands waving overhead as we caught sight of old acquaintances, and the matchings of invitations: “Are you going to the Ordways’? the Herseys’? the Schultzes’?” and the long green tickets clasped tight in our gloved hands. And last the murky yellow cars of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railroad looking cheerful as Christmas itself on the tracks beside the gate.

Henry James on Christmas in Paris, 1876

I have never seen Paris so charming as on this last Christmas Day. The weather put in a claim to a share in the fun, the sky was radiant and the air as soft and pure as a southern spring. It was a day to spend in the streets and all the world did so. I passed it strolling half over the city and wherever I turned I found the entertainment that a pedestrian relishes