T'was The Night Before Christmas, And On My Bookshelf....
November 16, 2018 2:57 PM   Subscribe

Every year I treat myself to a book about Christmas, as a hat-tip to a tradition one of my aunts had. What are some good lesser-known ones you've seen? (Assume that the Grinch/Polar Express/T'was-The-Night-before-Christmas/Rudolph stories are covered.)

My preference is for children's picture books, especially ones that are beautifully illustrated. Not necessarily religious in theme, but some mild religious-themed content is okay (a favorite one I have already is a series of poems in the voices of some of the various animals in the manger, but ends with a poem from the perspective of the three wise men's wives bringing practical things like extra diapers and chicken soup because what use is frankincense to a new mom?). I also dig short pop-history stuff (photo books of mall Santas, a book about the making of A Charlie Brown Christmas, "the history of the Christmas tree") or shorter novels (A Christmas Carol is covered, as is A Child's Christmas In Wales) or short poem or short story collections.

I would prefer not to have anything overtly religious ("Daily Meditations For Advent", "The Reason For The Season", etc.) as Christmas is more about a universal-brotherhood-of-man thing for me now. I'd also like very much to avoid "The Christmas Shoes" level of sentiment. I'm not even wedded to holiday-specific things; a celebration of winter in general would be lovely.

Some others I've got that may also suggest how I roll:

Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed (love this one, by the way)
The Christmas Pageant
This Year It Will Be Different (And Other Stories), by Maeve Binchy
the Everyman collection of Christmas poetry
A chapbook of Nikolai Gogol's "The Night Before Christmas" story
I've been eyeing this pop history book

Got a fave I could check out? Let me know!
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Media & Arts (40 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Hogfather by Terry Pratchett!
posted by The otter lady at 3:01 PM on November 16, 2018 [8 favorites]

I love Jolly Old Santa Claus. It's worth finding a vintage copy. It's in reprint but it isn't as good

Matt Haig writes Christmas books which have good stories.
posted by Ftsqg at 3:09 PM on November 16, 2018

Christmas books/stories that my parents read to us;

The Father Christmas Letters, J. R. R. Tolkien
A Child's Christmas in Wales, Dylan Thomas
Dancing Dan's Christmas, Damon Run Runyon (and my parents would have a Hot Tom and Jerry)
posted by ActingTheGoat at 3:09 PM on November 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Christmas Day Kitten by James Herriot.
posted by Dr. Twist at 3:13 PM on November 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you are Canadian, you MUST get A Porcupine in a Pine Tree . We now have a stuffed (toy) porcupine on top of our tree every Christmas.
posted by Enid Lareg at 3:16 PM on November 16, 2018

Hogfather is my favorite Christmas-adjacent book of all time, but Santa Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins and The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story by Lemony Snicket are picture book faves in my household.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 3:17 PM on November 16, 2018

Came in to recommend
The Father Christmas Letters, J. R. R. Tolkien
A Child's Christmas in Wales, Dylan Thomas
ATG beat me to it, so I added links.
We also love The Jolly Christmas Postman by Allan Ahlberg and Janet Ahlberg
posted by theora55 at 3:19 PM on November 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm not Canadian, but Enid Lareg reminds me of another angle: "how Christmas is celebrated in other countries" books were like CRACK for me when I was eight, and I still kinda dig that, so "international" takes on things are also fun.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:19 PM on November 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I’ve always loved The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. No text, only images! I loved interpreting it as a kid.
posted by sucre at 3:32 PM on November 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Got a friend visiting Reykjavik? Have them pick up a copy of Brian Pilkington's Yule Lads book. (Also available on Amazon, but it will cost as much as a trip to Iceland.)
posted by roger ackroyd at 3:38 PM on November 16, 2018

It’s more a chapter book than a picture book (although there are wonderful illustrations by Lois Lenski), but Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown has a chapter called “Christmas Shopping,” in which Betsy and friends spend an entire day window shopping and wondering what to buy with their ten cents, circa 1900. Very old-fashioned and Christmassy.
posted by elphaba at 3:56 PM on November 16, 2018

I've got a Christmas book stack, too! Here are a couple I love especially that meet your criteria:

ETA Hoffman's The Nutcracker, illustrated lavishly by Maurice Sendak
Miracle on 34th Street illustrated by Tomie de Paola
posted by Miko at 4:09 PM on November 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

When we were kids, my sisters and I were given The Family Read-Aloud Christmas Treasury and we spent many years reading selections before opening presents as a family tradition, so I will recommend that one. Especial favorites are "The Little Blue Dishes" and "Babushka" (which was always read by my father, every year).
posted by darchildre at 4:21 PM on November 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Holly and Ivy. Gorgeous.
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:32 PM on November 16, 2018

Maud Hart Lovelace wrote The Trees Kneel at Christmas in the 50s, a contemporary book set in the Lebanese Catholic community in Brooklyn.
posted by brujita at 4:43 PM on November 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter
The Mole Family's Christmas by Russell Hoban
The Monster in the Cave by Nicholas Heller
The Coat-Hanger Christmas Tree by Eleanor Estes
posted by Redstart at 4:51 PM on November 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I make it a point to read “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas every year. It’s a short story about a man’s reminiscence of the holiday as it was observed in Wales. It’s gentle, nostalgic, poetic, and comforting. If you listen to the recording read by Thomas himself, snuggled up with a hot cocoa, I think that would be very hygge.
posted by shalom at 5:36 PM on November 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I couldn't more highly recommend Santa Claus and His Elves. Super detailed whimsical illustrations, wonderfully rhythmic words (I memorized them as a child before I could read), not overly religious. Translated from Finnish and it's apparently a Finnish holiday classic.
posted by peacheater at 6:53 PM on November 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

One of my family's special Christmas books when I was a kid was The Gingerbears' First Christmas. Not overtly religious that I can remember (though it's been a while!) and beautiful photos for illustrations.
posted by colbeagle at 7:04 PM on November 16, 2018

I also came to recommend A Child’s Christmas in Wales.
posted by samthemander at 7:48 PM on November 16, 2018

Apple Tree Christmas by Trinka Hakes Nobel

Christmas at Eagle Pond by Donald Hall
posted by epj at 8:44 PM on November 16, 2018

Gentle re-emphasis that I already have A Child's Christmas In Wales.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:44 PM on November 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Nthing Tolkien's Father Christmas Letters. My brother and I received a copy one year and I loved it to pieces.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:11 PM on November 16, 2018

As a child, I *adored* Astrid Lindgren's Christmas in Noisy Village.
posted by bibliotropic at 11:54 PM on November 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

My favourite Christmas story is 'A Christmas Memory' by Truman Capote.
posted by h00py at 12:34 AM on November 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is a lovely tradition, especially you inheriting it.

Christmas at Bullerby.

You might like The Armourer's House, which I rec'd on a previous thread. Also in this thread.

The 1950s series "The Young Traveller in ... often has Christmas scenes abroad. MeMail me if you'd like to know more about these.

Carol Ann Duffy (Poet Laureate) has published several Christmas poems as short illustrated books. Mrs Scrooge, The King of Christmas.

There's a book I think was called The Twelve Days of Christmas which I enjoyed - I can't remember the author and can't find it online, but in searching did find several books with the same or similar titles you might like: Twelve Days of Christmas (Dorothée Duntze); The Twelve Days of Christmas (Hadfields, non-fiction); The Twelve Days of Christmas Cookbook; A Stork in a Baobab Tree: An African Twelve Days of Christmas; The 12 Days o Yule.
posted by paduasoy at 12:46 AM on November 17, 2018

Both Jackie French and Mem Fox have Wombat themed Christmas books.

Wombat Divine (Mem Fox) was the one I was thinking of, but when I googled Christmas Wombat I found the Jackie French one.

Both tick the Christmas, international, children's picture book, not overly religious, boxes.
posted by freethefeet at 1:15 AM on November 17, 2018

Some more:

Farjeon's Come Christmas - may be too religious though.

When Christmas Comes: An Anthology of Childhood Christmases.

Alfie's Christmas.
posted by paduasoy at 1:25 AM on November 17, 2018

Oh, and Bear Snores On. I see there is also Bear Stays Up for Christmas, but haven't read that.

And Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs.
posted by paduasoy at 1:30 AM on November 17, 2018

I have an old, old copy of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum from my great-grandparents' farmhouse and it is so very whimsical!
posted by abeja bicicleta at 2:29 AM on November 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Dream Snow by Eric Carle. Simple, beautiful picture book about Christmas Eve at a farm.
posted by Sukey Says at 3:26 AM on November 17, 2018

You very definitely want The Christmas Handbook by Malcolm Bird. It’s a ridiculous little handbook of how to celebrate Christmas, complete with recipes, crafts, wrapping ideas, games, etc. (His “The Witch’s Handbook” is also delightful but outside the scope of your question.
posted by athenasbanquet at 5:56 AM on November 17, 2018

A highly original Christmas picture book is by Kurt Vonnegut: Sun, Moon, Star.
posted by archy at 6:06 AM on November 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Okay I deliberately left "Christmas cookbooks" out of the mix because I already have way too much, but I'm now eyeing the "Twelve Days of Christmas Cookbook" and have accepted that I gotta be me, so yeah, Christmas cookbooks also work....just nothing big, please, I'll try to restrain myself that way.

(I already have Elizabeth David's very very English book and Darina Allen's Irish one - received as a gift from my Irish friend who admitted sending a cookbook to a hoarder like me was "like sending coal to Newcastle", but I still love it.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:08 AM on November 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm afraid you probably do need Nigel Slater's Christmas Chronicles.

Seconding Mog's Christmas.
posted by paduasoy at 4:57 AM on November 18, 2018

My two favorites are Harvey Slumfenburger's Christmas Present by John Burningham and Shall I Knit You a Hat by Kate Klise, both about going out of one's way to give thoughtful gifts.
posted by tangosnail at 1:11 PM on November 20, 2018

Updating with some selections I've made thus far:

* I actually slapped my forehead and said "of course, why don't I have that already" at the Tolkien Christmas Letters and the Maurice Sendak Nutcracker. I will be making a pilgrimage to Strand bookstore to find those this weekend, along with the Vonnegut Sun, Moon, Star and The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming.

* Hunting for the Tomie de Paola books actually lead me to something different - Christmas Remembered, which is largely memoir with some illustration. He does reminisce about being a lay brother in a monastery, which does bend the "nothing overtly religious" rule a tad, but he isn't preaching so I let it go.

* When Christmas Comes sounds lovely but seems to be only available in the UK, if anyone sees a way for someone in the US to get it gimme a shout.

* Nigel Slater's book is on my wish list, and Harvey Slumfenburger's Christmas Present is en route to me from Amazon.

* Finally, I went trolling for books on Paperback Swap and discovered someone who had a whole bunch of books from the World Book company Christmas Around The World series. Have also ordered a Rumpole Christmas anthology and something by Max Lucado

This should start me off nicely. :-) Thanks!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:46 AM on November 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

When Christmas Comes is on my pile of books to take to the charity shop, which is what made me think of it - happy to post it to you if you like - MeMail me if so.
posted by paduasoy at 1:35 PM on December 8, 2018

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