20 Famous Christmas Stories
Over the years, Christmas has inspired many authors to write about its spirit and significance. The spirit that embodies charity, forgiveness, friendship, unselfish love and generosity. In the stories that follow, you will find many examples of what makes the Christmas Spirit so unique and special. Though most of these stories have been written for children, readers of all ages will enjoy these skillfully told tales.
O. Henry was the pseudonym of the American writer William Sydney Porter (September 11, 1862 – June 5, 1910). O. Henry’s short stories are well known for their wit, wordplay, warm characterization and clever twist endings. The Gift of the Magi is one of O. Henry’s most famous stories. The story contains many of the elements for which O. Henry is widely known, including poor, working-class characters, a humorous tone, realistic detail, and a surprise ending. A major reason given for its enduring appeal is its affirmation of unselfish love. Such love, the story and its title suggest, is like the gifts given by the wise men, called the Magi, who brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the newborn Jesus.
Hans Christian Andersen (April 2, 1805 – August 4, 1875) was a Danish author and poet noted for his children’s stories. During his lifetime he was acclaimed for having delighted children worldwide, and was feted by royalty. His poetry and stories have been translated into more than 150 languages. They have inspired motion pictures, plays, ballets, and animated films. Originally published as part of Andersen’s fifth volume of Fairy Tales in 1848, The Little Match Girl is an original Andersen story inspired by a Johan Thomas Lundbye drawing and loosely based on an incident that happened to Andersen’s mother when she was a child. Written nine years after Andersen’s friend and colleague Charles Dickens finished Oliver Twist, The Little Match Girl shed a light on a very oppressed and silent group in Europe — its children.
A Christmas Carol is a novella by English author Charles Dickens first released on 19 December 1843. The story tells of sour and stingy Ebenezer Scrooge’s ideological, ethical, and emotional transformation after the supernatural visitations of Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come. The novella met with instant success and critical acclaim. With A Christmas Carol, Dickens hoped to illustrate how self-serving, insensitive people can be converted into charitable, caring, and socially conscious members of society. With each Ghost’s tale functioning as a parable, A Christmas Carol advances the Christian moral ideals associated with Christmas—generosity, kindness, and universal love for your community.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), well known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist. Twain is noted for his novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which has been called “the Great American Novel”, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Twain was a friend to presidents, artists, industrialists, and European royalty. His elder daughter, Suzy Clemens, was born in Elmira, New York, and lived a short life, dying at the age of 23 from meningitis. In childhood, Suzy often had poor health, similar to her mother. At 13, she wrote a biography of her father, which was included as par of Twain’s Chapters From My Autobiography. Mark Twain wrote a letter to his daughter, which he sent from Santa Claus, during one of her childhood illnesses.
Leo Tolstoy, or Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (September 9 1828 – November 20 1910), was a Russian writer widely regarded as among the greatest of novelists. Tolstoy’s further talents as essayist, dramatist, and educational reformer made him the most influential member of the aristocratic Tolstoy family. Papa Panov’s Special Christmas was originally written in French by Ruben Saillens, and then translated into English by Tolstoy. This is a very thoughtful story, based on the Bible text ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me water’ which Jesus used to make us understand how we should serve him by serving each other. The story of Papa Panov is an excellent way to introduce young chldren to the principles of kindness.
The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle is one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930), and is the seventh story of twelve in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The story was first published in Strand Magazine in January 1892. The plot revolves around a rare blue carbuncle (a type of semi precious stone) going missing. Watson visits Holmes at Christmas time and finds him contemplating a battered old hat, brought to him by the commissionaire Peterson after the hat and a Christmas goose had been dropped by a man in a scuffle with some street ruffians. Peterson takes the goose home to eat it, but comes back later with the carbuncle. His wife has found it in the bird’s throat. Holmes cannot resist a good mystery, and he and Watson set out across the city to determine exactly how the stolen jewel wound up in a Christmas goose.
The Elves and the Shoemaker is part of a collection of German origin fairy tales first published in 1812 by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the Brothers Grimm. The collection is commonly known today as Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The theme is a well-known one throughout European folklore. There are many warning stories about what should happen if the recipient of faerie help should offer clothes to his or her benefactor. According to the tales, pixies and faeries alike consider clothing to be a form of bondage, and see any kind offers or new clothes as a way to enslave the faerie.
Originally published in 1955, Christmas Day in the Morning is a heartwarming story about sacrifice and the spirit of giving. Pearl S. Buck (June 26, 1892 — March 6, 1973) was an award-winning American writer who spent the majority of her life in China. Her novel The Good Earth won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. In 1938, she became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces. In Christmas Day in the Morning, Buck has captured the spirit of Christmas in this elegant, heartwarming story about a boy’s gift of love.
The Snowman is a children’s book by English author Raymond Briggs (born 18 January 1934), published in 1978. In 1982, this book was turned into a 26-minute animated movie by Dianne Jackson. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Animated Short Film in 1982. The book is wordless, as is the film except for the song "Walking in the Air”. The story is told through picture, action and music. A groundbreaking publication depicting the birth and development of a beautiful but fragile friendship between a young boy, James, and the Snowman he has built in his back garden.
Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer is a character created in a story and song by the same name. The story was created by Robert L. May in 1939 as part of his employment with Montgomery Ward. In its first year of publication, Montgomery Ward distributed 2.4 million copies of Rudolph’s story. Johnny Marks decided to adapt May’s story into a song, which through the years has been recorded by many artists. It was first sung commercially by crooner Harry Brannon on New York City radio in the latter part of 1948 before Gene Autry recorded it formally in 1949, and has since filtered into the popular consciousness.
Lyman Frank Baum (15 May 1856 – 6 May 1919) was an American author of children’s books, best known for writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. A Kidnapped Santa Claus is a Christmas-themed short story written by L. Frank Baum. It is a continuation of the story set forth in The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, telling how Santa Claus was kidnapped by “Daemons” in a plan to make children unhappy. It has been called one of Baum’s most beautiful stories and constitutes an influential contribution to the mythology of Christmas.
One cold winter’s night, a cruel and hard-hearted shepherd is amazed by some strange happenings. A man comes looking for wood for a fire to warm his wife and newborn baby, and following the man back to his cold grotto, the shepherd discovers the true spirit of Christmas. Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf (20 November 1858–16 March 1940) was a Swedish author. She was the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, and most widely known for her children’s book The Wonderful Adventures of Nils.
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (29 January 1860 – 15 July 1904) was a Russian short-story writer, playwright and physician, considered to be one of the greatest short-story writers in the history of world literature. As Chekhov wrote to a friend, “Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress. When I get fed up with one, I spend the night with the other. Though it is irregular, it is less boring this way, and besides, neither of them loses anything through my infidelity.”
The Steadfast Tin Soldier is a literary fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen about a tin soldier and his love for a paper ballerina. The Steadfast Tin Soldier was the first tale Andersen wrote that had neither a literary model nor a folk tale source but is straight from Andersen’s imagination. It marked a new independence in his writing, and successfully brought to life the nineteenth century nursery world with its toy dancers, castles, and swans.
On a cold December night, everybody was coming to see their new Savior and brought Him all kinds of gifts and presents. A shepherd maiden had also come to see the Christ Child but she was very poor and had nothing to offer the child. She felt helpless and was quietly weeping outside the door. An angel took pity on her and gently brushed aside the snow at her feet, from where a beautiful cluster of waxen white winter roses sprang up with pink tipped petals. He softly whispered to her that these Christmas roses are more valuable than any myrrh, frankincense or gold for they are pure and made of love.
The Nutcracker and the Mouse King is a story written in 1816 by E. T. A. Hoffmann in which young Marie Stahlbaum’s favorite Christmas toy, the Nutcracker, comes alive and, after defeating the evil Mouse King in battle, whisks her away to a magical kingdom populated by dolls. In 1892, the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov turned the story into the ballet The Nutcracker, which became one of Tchaikovsky’s most famous compositions, and one of the most popular ballets in the world.
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish writer, poet, and prominent aesthete. He became one of the most successful playwrights of the late Victorian era in London with a series of social satires which continue to be performed, especially his masterpiece The Importance of Being Earnest. Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales have been dramatized, made into films, ballets, plays and adapted for radio. The Selfish Giant is a multi-layered short story that will appeal to both children and adults because of the depth of its meaning. For young children it can be read literally about a giant who is mean and whose garden refuses to grow. For older readers the religious symbolism can also be reflected upon as discussing themes such as selfishness and forgiveness. The meaning of the wall around the garden, symbolic of people shutting each other out can also be debated upon.
Frances Browne (January 16, 1816 – 1879) was a blind Irish poet and novelist, best remembered for her collection of short stories for children: Granny’s Wonderful Chair, of which The Christmas Cuckoo is a part. It is a richly imaginative book of fairy stories and has been translated into many languages. In Granny’s Wonderful Chair there are seven stories, set in an interesting framework that tells of the adventures of the little girl Snowflower and her chair at the court of King Winwealth. From beginning to end it is filled with pictures; each little tale has its own picturesque setting, its own vividly realized scenery.
Four Wise Men followed the star in the east, but only three arrived in Bethlehem on time. This is the legend of the fourth Wise Man Artaban and his journey in search of the King. Henry van Dyke (1852 – 1933) was an American author, educator, and clergyman. He graduated from Princeton University in 1873 and from Princeton Theological Seminary, 1877 and served as a professor of English literature at Princeton between 1899 and 1923. In 1908-09 Dr. van Dyke was an American lecturer at the University of Paris. By appointment of President Wilson he became Minister to the Netherlands and Luxembourg in 1913. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and received many other honors.
The Burglar’s Christmas is a short story by Willa Cather. It was first published in Home Monthly in 1896 under the pseudonym of Elizabeth L. Seymour, her cousin’s name. Cather was celebrated by critics like H.L. Mencken for writing in plainspoken language about ordinary people. When novelist Sinclair Lewis won the Nobel Prize in Literature, he paid homage to her by saying that Cather should have won the honor.
Spend a quiet and cozy evening with your loved ones and read these charming stories about Christmas. These stories are a great way for kids and adults to learn more about Christmas, its meaning and message, and why it is the most special holiday of the year.