In Iceland, there is a time known as the Christmas Book Flood, or Jólabókaflóðið, in which new books are published in anticipation of Christmas.
“The culture of giving books as presents is very deeply rooted in how families perceive Christmas as a holiday,” says Kristjan B. Jonasson, president of the Iceland Publishers Association. “Normally, we give the presents on the night of the 24th and people spend the night reading. In many ways, it’s the backbone of the publishing sector here in Iceland.” (NPR, “Literary Iceland Revels In Its Annual ‘Christmas Book Flood'” by Jordan G. Teicher).
My friends like to participate in this tradition, and while I do have a book for this Christmas Eve, I thought I’d put together a list of books to put you in the Christmas. Also, I made a special rule for myself that none of these books could be “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, because I’ve already spoken about that here and here. So without further ado, here is my list of books to get you into the holiday spirit!
Do you want a little magic? Then The Old Magic of Christmas by Linda Raedisch is the book for you!
I first read “The Old Magic of Christmas” a few years ago while celebrating the holidays in Ireland. It was a serendipitous combination. At the time, my knowledge of Yuletide traditions was limited, but I felt as though this book opened me up to a new world of Winter possibilities. This book is especially great because it’s not just about Christmas, but really about all holidays associated with the darkest time of the year. My celebrations of Alfablot have increased significantly after that fateful Irish adventure.
Do you feel like curling up by the fire with a warm drink? I’d read The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking.
I was first made aware of the phrase “Hygge” by a Danish friend. She was suggesting a theme for my once-annual holiday party, and once I learned what it was, I was all about it. I lit a ton of candles, made sure everyone had a blanket, and kept the warm drinks flowing. It was heaven. Does loving Hygge make me basic? Probably, since it’s trendy and there are a million books on the subject now. I have a soft spot for this book because it’s a cute, tidy guide to embracing something wonderful.
Are you in the mood for something British? Then try Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Did you know that guy who created Middle Earth also did other stuff? Oh, you did? Cool, then you know more than me.
I read (or listened to) “The Father Christmas Letters” last night while making cookies to pass out to the neighbors, and it was perfection. What struck me about this collection was the love Tolkien poured into each letter. He must have spent so much time crafting the perfect story to delight and awe his children. While listening to this collection of letters, I was infused with a feeling of warmth and joy. My favorite character was the North Polar Bear, who I hope becomes a steady feature in other Christmas tales.
Do you like your Christmas with a dash of homicide? It’s time to read Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie.
Murder Mystery isn’t my usual go-to for the holidays, but with a writer as skilled as Agatha Christie, how can anyone resist? I loved Murder on the Orient Express, where I was first introduced to the titular character, but I don’t think you need to be familiar with the other Hercule Poirot stories in order to enjoy this one.
Want some Jesus? Then Hidden Christmas by Timothy J. Keller is the book for you!
As a secular humanist, I’m aware that my intense obsession with Christmas is a little ironic and misplaced. However, I am also aware of the deeply un-Christian roots of Christmas, which has further spurred on my fascination. I am still interested in learning more about Christian mythology, especially regarding the origins of Jesus Christ. I’m grateful for thoughtful, insightful books like “Hidden Christmas,” which are well-researched and well-written, and give me plenty to think about even after I’m done reading.
Do you think kids are annoying and need a little sense scared into them? Krampus and the thief of Christmas by Eldritch Black will be up your alley.
You can find murder in any old book, but how many books have you read featuring child-snatching, coal-gobbling goat men? If your answer is anything other than “zero,” then you’ve probably already heard of this book, and maybe you’ve already read “Krampus” and are looking for something more intense. If you’re a hardcore horror fan, then I’d look elsewhere, because despite a few scary moments, this book ends on a light note.
In fact, think this book was written to appeal to people like me, who’s favorite literary genre is “Spooky Books with Children Protagonists Who Face Scary Circumstances But Everything Ends Happily”. I really enjoyed the characters and the story, especially the duality of Santa Claus and Krampus. The thought that the two are incomplete without the other is pretty deep for a children’s book, and also makes me think of one of my all-time favorite films: The Dark Crystal.
Are you in the mood for a good old-fashioned American Christmas? Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, or more specifically, A Little House Christmas Treasury
This Christmas story never fails to get to me. The Ingalls family are snug in their little home on the Kansas prairie, but when a blizzard appears, the girls are worried that Santa Claus won’t be able to make it in time for Christmas. Just when all hope of a merry Christmas is lost, Mr. Edwards, the Ingalls’ neighbor, shows up to save the day. He claims to have encountered Santa while on the frozen prairie, and I totally believed this the first time I read this story, but my seven-year-old self didn’t yet know the truth. That truth being that this man walked for miles and miles in a Kansas blizzard so that the Ingalls girls wouldn’t miss out.
The other Christmas stories are worth reading, especially the one from the Long Winter, in which in the Ingalls suffer through the severe winter of 1880. However, my favorite will always be about that Christmas on the prairie, when Mr. Edwards met Santa Claus.
Do you want to impress people with your knowledge of the classics? The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffman.
Everyone and their mother has heard of the Nutcracker, and most people have seen it, but do you know the story behind the ballet? It’s a weird one, and therefore I heartally recommend adding it to your Christmas book list. It’ll be nice to read before heading out to see one of the thousands of “The Nutcracker” performances put on every year.
For those interested, Alan Cumming recently performed the original story with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and it’s premiering on PBS. Check it out!
Are you feeling Dickensian? The Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford
Okay, so technically I haven’t read the book yet, just watched the movie, but I’m going to read the book as soon as I have time! I’d recommend checking out this delightful trailer, and see if it piques your interest. Then read the book, and while you’re at it, reread A Christmas Carol!
For my fellow grubworms and sugar ants: History of Christmas Food and Feasts by Claire Hopley
Why recommend a boring cookbook when I could recommend a fascinating tale of the History of Christmas food? Sadly, I have failed you in that I am recommending another book that I haven’t read yet, but I promise I will! It’s going on my to-read list. My hope is that it feels a little like the Mrs. Crocombe’s cooking videos created by Enlighs Heritage.
Special Mention: Ice Planet Barbarians by Ruby Dixon
2021 was a weird year. Did I know I would become obsessed with a book series about blue aliens and the kidnapped human women who love them? No, I didn’t, but here we are, and now in my spare time I’m working on a TV adaptation of the series that will never see the light of day. I’ve written several articles about it already, which you can read here and here and here.
Ruby Dixon’s characters celebrate “No Poison Day” rather than Christmas, but the holiday spirit is definitely in full-swing on Not-Hoth. Three books in the series celebrate this magical holiday, although my favorite would have to be “Barbarian’s Hope,” which is about Asha and Hemalo (two characters we’ve followed throughout the series) falling back in love after healing from the tragedy that first tore them apart. There’s also a joke about salad tossing, so enjoy!
Merry Christmas, and happy reading!
4 thoughts on “10 Books for Getting Into the Christmas Spirit (Depending On Your Mood)”
-I need to look up the tradition in Iceland. I’m curious how successful it is (i.e. e-readers versus actual books). I personally like real books, but because of the logistics, I just go with e-reader editions (also they tend to run cheaper).
-#mindblown that Tolkien wrote something other than the Lord of the Rings
-I didn’t know Alan Cummings was Scottish until fairly recently… I blame the Spy Kids movie for believing he was American this whole time
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Layla, we need to start the Icelandic tradition! What did you read over your winter break?