55 Best Christmas Books to Read Around the Holidays
Nothing makes the holidays merrier than curling up by the fire with your favorite Christmas books
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These Christmas books make the season merry
One of the best Christmas activities to do on your own or with others is to get comfy-cozy, grab your favorite holiday drink and treat, and settle down by the Christmas tree with a great read. You can read anything you want, of course, but there are all sorts of holiday-themed Christmas books that’ll make your reading session even better and fan the flame of the Christmas spirit.
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1. A December to Remember by Jenny Bayliss
This delightful new holiday romp by Jenny Bayliss, whom Christmas rom-com readers know well, centers on three estranged half-sisters whose deceased dad has left many hoops to hop through in order to access their inheritance. As they tackle the challenges together, will their attempts heal the distance between them and help them come home to each other? Funny, heartwarming and not too Christmasy, this cozy read, which came out this fall, is a December TBR list must.
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2. The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern
My family faithfully watched It’s a Wonderful Life every Christmas as part of a weekend Christmas movie marathon, and this beautiful, illustrated book is the original story behind the movie. Philip Van Doren Stern wrote The Greatest Gift in 1943 as a short story after it came to him in a dream and then self-published it as a Christmas card after publishers rejected it. This special edition includes an afterword by his daughter and will surely be as beloved as the famous Christmas film it inspired. Of course, if this type of tale is your jam, you may also enjoy these other feel-good books.
3. The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman
This 2017 novella by New York Times bestselling author Fredrik Backman may be an unexpected Christmas read, given that it starts out with a father confessing to a killing. Reflective, profoundly moving and a bit of a dark read exploring death and time, The Deal of a Lifetime may leave you with a major book hangover. But contemplating family, love and what makes a life worthwhile is part of the Christmas tradition, right?
4. The Christmas Orphans Club by Becca Freeman
Among this year’s most-anticipated books is this humorous holiday treasure from popular podcaster Becca Freeman about found family, friendship and the joys of growing up. Christmas can be a difficult and even painful season for many. The Christmas Orphans Club is something of a modern-day love letter to those facing a hard or nontraditional holiday. Heartwarming, festive and oh so New York City, this is one book you don’t want to miss, as it explores some of the many forms love—and life—can take.
5. A Treasury of African American Christmas Stories edited by Bettye Collier-Thomas
This powerful collection of stories and poetry, which came out in 1997, is from African American writers and activists who first published the pieces between 1880 and 1953. One of the great things about A Treasury of African American Christmas Stories is that Collier-Thomas, a professor of American history at Temple University, introduces the different stories to help readers understand their context and significance. In addition to reflecting on typical holiday themes of family and love, the anthology explores matters of racism, violence, poverty, racial identity and civil rights. If you’re picking this up to help educate yourself further, you may also want to check out these books about racism in America.
6. The Christmas Dress by Courtney Cole
I love comforting Christmas books, but what I really enjoy is a good intergenerational tale of friendship, and this beautiful holiday story about two women and one gorgeous dress is precisely that. Not only is 2021’s The Christmas Dress full of all the feel-good moments, humor and warmth we expect from a book with a title like this, but it also has a bit of magic, fashion and romance sprinkled in—and I love that it gives the “home for Christmas” idea a new spin with one of the characters, Meg Julliard, reluctantly returning home to manage an apartment building full of longtime tenants, including Ellie Wade, who herself is preparing to move out and into a nursing home. Christmas doesn’t feel much like Christmas for these two women … until it does.
7. Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
Is Christmas even Christmas without all the advertising, marketing and sales getting us to drop more than our net worth in purchases? In this ninth book of the beloved Shopaholic series, published in 2019, Becky Brandon scrambles to pull together the perfect Christmas when her parents pass the hosting duty on to her. It’s fun, it’s festive and it’s fast—a holiday extravaganza of a book that has Becky learning she might have a little more to give than store-bought gifts.
8. Christmas on the Island by Jenny Colgan
This poignant Christmas tale from 2018, the third in the Mure series (though easy to read as a stand-alone), takes place on the very remote and terribly cold Scottish Island of Mure. Although Christmas is supposedly the time you spend with your loved ones, that doesn’t always work out for everyone—like Flora, who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant with her ex-boss’s child, and Saif, a Syrian refugee who made it to Mure with his sons but whose wife is missing. This women’s fiction book deftly delves into some potentially triggering topics, including death and refugee experiences, but while Christmas on the Island is a heavier read, it’s also touching and beautiful.
9. Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak
Is it too soon to enjoy a pre-COVID-19 holiday quarantine story? Because this very British forced-proximity holiday tale, which came out in 2017, is too good to leave untouched. When the Birch family is forced to not only spend Christmas together but also do so in quarantine conditions, their secrets don’t stand a chance of staying hidden. If you want a slightly snarky, telenovela-esque level of family drama, pick up this book!
10. Three Holidays and a Wedding by Uzma Jalaluddin and Marissa Stapley
What happens when Christmas, Ramadan and Hanukkah all fall at practically the same time? In the recently published Three Holidays and a Wedding, you get a perfect sprinkling of chaos and magic with a double dash of romance. Set in a small, charming town, this is a Hallmark Christmas movie in novel form (with added diversity) and a delightful December romp that I already plan to gift to some friends.
11. Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker by Gregory Maguire
If you love the story of the Nutcracker as much as I do, you should probably get your hands on this Christmas book, a magical and mystical retelling by the author who brought us the famous Wicked. In this almost devastating prequel, which hit shelves in 2017, Gregory Maguire reimagines the tale of the Nutcracker with a beautiful albeit dark backstory that includes an antihero, lonely children, illness and death, and found family. Although not a lighthearted Christmas read, it is nonetheless a heartwarming and ultimately hopeful story.
12. The Beautiful Little Things by Melissa Hill
The holidays can be especially difficult for those in the throes of grief, and this emotional and engaging book set across several Christmases encapsulates that with tenderness and love. After losing their mother, two sisters find their world turned upside down. Yet as their center of gravity changes, life—with all its messes and wonders, big decisions and beautiful little things—continues on. Melissa Hill’s The Beautiful Little Things, published in 2021, is a reminder of the power of family that can offer comfort and healing to readers remembering lost loved ones.
13. Blackmail and Bibingka by Mia P. Manansala
From the author of Arsenic and Adobo comes a holiday cozy mystery featuring your favorite Filipino family, a prodigal son, blackmail, attempted murder, poison and a whole lot of delightful mayhem to sort through—all against a backdrop of great food. Fortunately, Blackmail and Bibingka, published in 2022, also contains recipes, so you can cook and eat your way through the mystery along with everyone else.
14. The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories edited by Tara Moore
We might all be familiar with the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, but did you know that telling ghost stories during the Christmas season used to be a tradition in Victorian England? If you’re a fan of horror novels or have a penchant for ghostly tales, this 2016 collection of Victorian Christmas ghost stories may be just the thing for you. The book gets bonus points for having informative introductions to the different stories and some fun rabbit trails to follow. With an ominous 13 carefully curated stories from old publications and including long-forgotten and even anonymous authors, as well as stories by Elizabeth Gaskell, Sir Walter Scott and Arthur Conan Doyle, you’ll definitely want to cuddle up somewhere cozy before diving into these eerie Christmastime tales.
15. Christmas Dessert Murder by Joanne Fluke
Can we all agree that yummy food is one of the best parts of the Christmas season? A good yuletide mystery doesn’t hurt either—and Christmas Dessert Murder, which came out in 2021, combines them into one fabulous festive feast of a story. You get a two-for-one dessert deal with this book too, since it consists of two previously published Hannah Swensen mysteries: the Christmas Caramel Murder and the Christmas Cake Murder. These books are deliciously light and fun holiday capers with a dash of murder, some vanilla romance and plenty of real recipes, so you can try making some non-deadly, tasty holiday treats for yourself.
16. When Christmas Comes by Andrew Klavan
For even more holiday thrills, pick up When Christmas Comes, which was published in 2021. This small-town mystery features a grisly murder and a cast of characters that includes a third-generation Army Ranger and Silver Star recipient, and an English professor with more to him than anyone would guess. It’s a good choice if you’re into darker and more intense Christmas books.
17. Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
Head back in time and across the pond to Ireland circa 1985, where a simple Christmastime delivery changes everything for coal merchant Bill Furlong. What he finds while out on his errand forces him to face his past, his town and his local church in this powerful story of courage, hope and right vs. wrong. Lauded by critics as an instant classic, Small Things Like These landed Irish writer Claire Keegan on the short list for the 2022 Booker Prize.
18. Yule: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for the Winter Solstice by Susan Pesznecker
As you hang stockings by the fire this Christmas, you may be interested in reading about the lore of yule and the deep midwinter. Susan Pesznecker’s 2015 book, Yule, is full of traditions, correspondences, crafts ideas, meditations and more. You can even try out a wassail recipe!
19. Marley by Jon Clinch
If you’ve ever wondered about the backstory of the ghostly Marley from Dickens’s classic novel A Christmas Carol, you are not alone. But Jon Clinch did more than just imagine who Marley might’ve been—in 2019, he published a book about it. This dark and deeply intriguing tale imagines Scrooge’s sordid, secretive past and the infamous Marley, with whom he becomes business partners as they set out down their ignoble path to death and doom.
20. Miracle on 10th Street and Other Christmas Writings by Madeleine L’Engle
From the bestselling author of A Wrinkle in Time comes this collection of beautiful Christmas writings that include poetry, short stories and reflections. The thoughtful, faith-infused pieces are signature L’Engle, exploring Christmas from various standpoints, including Advent and Epiphany. My fellow L’Engle devotees will be delighted that Miracle on 10th Street, which came out in 1998, includes two Christmasy Austin family short stories.
21. Christmas: A Biography by Judith Flanders
I absolutely adore Christmas, and Judith Flanders’s Christmas: A Biography, published in 2017, tells me everything I’ve always wanted to know (and didn’t even think to consider) about the holiday. The myths and legends, the feasting and festivities, the appearance of Santa Claus and the commercialization of the holiday—you name it, it’s in the book.
22. How to Eat Your Christmas Tree: Delicious, Innovative Recipes for Cooking with Trees by Julia Georgallis
This is one of those Christmas books I keep meaning to gift my friends, and maybe this will be the year I do. For anyone who thinks about things like food waste, deforestation or climate impacts even in the midst of the holidays—or who simply likes to be resourceful or live a little on the crunchy side—How to Eat Your Christmas Tree, published in 2020, is a holiday must-read. It’s amazing what you can do with your Christmas tree, not to mention other pine trees out there.
23. Skipping Christmas by John Grisham
When I found out that the hilarious Christmas movie known as Christmas with the Kranks was based on a 2001 book by John Grisham, I was shocked! If you’re familiar with the movie, you’ll know already that after their grown daughter leaves for the Peace Corps, Luther and Nora Krank decide to eschew the holiday hubbub in favor of a Caribbean cruise. But a surprise changes their plans, and hilarious high jinks ensue.
24. Mangos and Mistletoe by Adriana Herrera
This fast-paced, multicultural holiday rom-com, which hit shelves in 2019, makes me smile with its story of two Dominican chefs with wildly different backstories who end up in Scotland competing together in a Bake-Off. The kitchen is not the only place where things get steamy as the women pair up and fall for each other. Got to love Christmas books with lots of flair and flavor!
25. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
The 1905 story The Gift of the Magi was one of my favorite Christmas books to read every year growing up. It is a classic tale with a poignant, ironic twist. Jim and Della, a young, newly married couple without much money, each try to figure out what to get the other for the holiday. They make sacrifices to be able to afford their presents—and learn powerful lessons about love and gifts beyond material things. Sounds like it could be the plot of a romantic Christmas movie!
26. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
I bought my first copy of Little Women when I was 11 but realized later that the little paperback had only the book’s first half. One and a half years later, I received the complete novel for Christmas—perfect timing, given that the coming-of-age classic takes place around Christmas too (and my beloved copy was so worn I had taped it together). Follow along as sisters Jo, Beth, Meg and Amy try to carve their own paths in life while keeping their familial bonds strong. First published in 1868, the book was made into a movie (several times, actually), and like most ardent book fans, I have a very strong opinion about which film adaptation did it best.
27. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
A Christmas Carol is a classic for a reason! Though it’s spawned countless adaptations, Dickens’s original 1843 book about Ebenezer Scrooge, his four ghostly encounters and his resulting new lease on life is the ultimate holiday tale. It deserves a prominent place on any list of the best Christmas books—it’s one of the best short books to read any time of year.
28. My Little Donkey (Mi Burrito) by Susie Jaramillo
I grew up singing the famous Venezuelan song “Mi Burrito,” a Christmas ballad about the little donkey who carries Mary to Bethlehem in the Nativity story, so I can’t help but mention this sweet story based on the song. Published in 2017, My Little Donkey is a bilingual, accordion-style children’s board book perfect for a cozy family read-along.
29. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
Another good holiday mystery I have read and reread over the years is this 1938 whodunit by mystery magnate Agatha Christie. An old man invites his somewhat estranged family to his estate for Christmas … but he’s dead by Christmas Eve’s end. It’s time for the endlessly delightful master detective Hercule Poirot to crack this Christmas case.
30. Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory
Did you know that Royal Holiday was inspired by Meghan Markle’s mother, Doria Ragland? In this 2019 holiday romance, 50-something single mom Vivian joins her daughter on a Christmastime work trip to England—and finds herself falling for the queen’s handsome secretary. Both of them know she has to return to the States, but abandoning their romance is easier said than done. Get your hands on this romance novel and read it by the light of your Christmas tree.
31. You’re a Mean One, Matthew Prince by Timothy Janovsky
In this delightful boy-meets-boy holiday rom-com from 2022, the rich and spoiled Matthew Prince gets sentenced to spending his holidays with his grandparents in the middle of nowhere. Once there, he meets the terribly attractive Hector Martinez, who is shockingly unimpressed with him. As he works to pull off a charity gala—the success of which will earn him an early ticket home for good behavior—Matthew slowly loses his Grinch-like attitude. Timothy Janovsky adds depth to this slow-burn enemies-to-lovers romance by taking a frank look at generalized anxiety disorders, anxiety attacks and mental well-being.
32. Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
Here’s another holiday must-read for historical fiction buffs. Spanning the four Christmases of World War I and jumping forward to 1968 as well, Last Christmas in Paris, which came out in 2017, tells the story of Evie and Thomas experiencing the tumult of the war—and their growing love for each other—against the backdrop of the holidays.
33. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss
Can we even have a list of the best Christmas books without including this classic children’s book? Whether you know the tale by heart or are new to it, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a holiday must (yes, for all ages). The grumpy Grinch learns that “Christmas doesn’t come from a store,” a lesson that’s as relevant now as it was in 1957—maybe even more so.
34. The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore
This powerful portrait of a middle-school boy growing up in Harlem occurs around Christmastime. Still, it’s not your typical feel-good Christmas story, as the young Lolly Rachpaul and his mom are grieving his older brother’s gang-related death instead of celebrating. While deftly navigating some weighty topics, The Stars Beneath Our Feet (published in 2017) celebrates community and creativity. It shows how a simple gift of Legos helps Lolly dream of a better world for himself and how he might build it.
35. The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans
A young couple becomes the caretakers of an elderly widow, moving into her home. With their 4-year-old daughter, they begin to learn more about her, and their relationship develops over the holiday time. Her (and Richard Paul Evans’s) important wisdom has been guiding holiday readers since 1993 in The Christmas Box.
36. The Christmas Train by David Baldacci
A journalist must take a cross-country train ride from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles in time for Christmas to snag a story opportunity. He’s less than thrilled about it, but the eclectic people he meets along the way and the lessons they teach him make this a Christmas story for the ages. Fun fact: The 2001 novel The Christmas Train was made into a 2017 Hallmark Christmas movie!
37. Amazing Peace by Maya Angelou, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
This gorgeous children’s book brings to life a powerful Christmas poem by one of the greats. Amazing Peace invites readers to consider the hope and spirit of Christmas. Maya Angelou read this at the 2005 White House Christmas tree lighting, and you can purchase a book bundle that includes a recording of the acclaimed author reading the poem aloud. It’s a must for your Christmas books TBR pile and a perfect annual read.
38. I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Beverly Jenkins
Morgan and Dina were an “it” celebrity couple … three years ago. Now, they’ve reunited in Detroit during Christmas, and Morgan is determined to win her back. Is it too late for the pair? Find out in Beverly Jenkins’s 2019 novella I’ll Be Home for Christmas, a short read that pulls at the holiday heartstrings.
39. The Christmas Shoes by Donna VanLiere
Robert, a wealthy lawyer, has no time for Christmas frivolity—or his family. But on Christmas Eve, he bumps into Nathan, a young boy who’s trying to scrape together enough money for a pair of shoes for his sick mother. If that sounds familiar, it’s because 2001’s The Christmas Shoes is based on the tear-jerking Christmas song by NewSong.
40. Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle by Arthur Conan Doyle
Sherlock Holmes takes on a Christmastime mystery in 1892’s The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle. When a rare blue jewel turns up inside a Christmas goose, Holmes and Watson work together to find out who’s responsible.
41. A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd
You’ve seen the movie A Christmas Story (possibly a gajillion times). Now, read the collection of semi-autographical stories that Jean Shepherd used as the basis for the film. Compiled and released in 2003, after Shepherd’s death, the tales in A Christmas Story make a delightful, vignette-style fireside read.
42. Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright
Up-and-coming journalist Hope wants to cover the touching story of people who leave cash-filled glass jars for strangers in need. But that would mean risking the trust of the family behind the tradition. Will she do it? A movie version of 2005’s Christmas Jars was released in 2019, and thanks to the book, Christmas jars have become a real-life Christmas tradition.
43. The Christmas Bookshop by Jenny Colgan
A Christmas book about Christmas books? Yes, please! After Carmen loses her job, she has to move in with her “perfect” sister and work at the local bookstore. It’s quirky and magical enough to imbue everyone who enters with Christmas spirit—including an alluring, well-known author. Oh, and it’s set in Edinburgh! Grab The Christmas Bookshop, which came out in 2021, and get lost in a whimsical winter tale.
44. The 13th Gift by Joanne Huist Smith
In The 13th Gift, a recent widow and her kids are still grieving as Christmas approaches, when anonymous gifts start to appear on their doorstep, one each day, representing the 12 days of Christmas. As the family tries to figure out who sent them, they begin to move past their sorrow in this true tale of Christmas kindness, released in 2014. Grab the tissues—you may tear up!
45. The Wish Book Christmas by Lynn Austin
The Wish Book Christmas is sure to become a holiday favorite. Shortly after World War II, two friends are looking forward to raising their young sons in a time of peace. But when the Sears Christmas Wish Book comes out, both boys are glued to it, leaving the mothers to teach them that the holidays are about more than getting presents. They put their heads together to find good deeds for their sons to do—and learn a thing or two themselves in the process in this sweet historical tale, which released in 2021.
46. Christmas at Holly Berry Inn by Emily C. Childs
This 2020 romance begins with what sounds like a holiday nightmare. In Christmas at Holly Berry Inn, pesky (or fateful?) snowy weather forces Sloan to stay at an old inn—where the innkeeper is her ex. But as the evening goes on, old feelings resurface and Sloan has to decide what she really wants with her life. If second-chance romances are your jam, Christmas at Holly Berry Inn is the comfort read for you. (Want more? Luckily, there’s another book in Emily C. Childs’s Silver Creek Christmas romance book series.)
47. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
A bona fide classic for kids and grown-ups alike, this stunningly illustrated 1985 book journeys to the North Pole with a young boy on a fantastical train. If you haven’t read the story in years, now is the perfect time to pick up The Polar Express and find yourself transported by the magical story and gorgeous illustrations.
48. Comfort & Joy by Kristin Hannah
Kristin Hannah, the bestselling author of The Nightingale, gifted readers with this emotional roller coaster of a tale in 2020. After surviving a plane crash, Joy finds herself in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, where she meets a grieving family that might just offer her a second chance. Billed as a modern-day fairy tale, Hannah’s heartwarming Comfort & Joy is the perfect love story for the holiday season.
49. Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi
Given how much time we spend building elaborate gingerbread houses during the holiday season, it seems only fitting to include the 2019 fantasy novel Gingerbread, written by one of today’s queens of magical realism and mythologies, Helen Oyeyemi. This is no straightforward reimagining of Hansel and Gretel’s famous tale or easy fantasy, however; as with other Oyeyemi books, this story swirls in layered circles and is full of beautifully complex imagery and concepts that can sometimes skirt the edge of conscious understanding.
50. The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck
A kid wants nothing more than a new bike, but he gets a sweater for Christmas instead. Sounds simple, right? In this 2008 tale, the now-grown Eddie ponders the lessons he learned from that childhood Christmas and wonders if he’d choose to go back and change it, given the opportunity. Read The Christmas Sweater for some serious Christmas reflection.
51. Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva
Mr. Dickens and His Carol is another Christmas book to flip through while snuggled up on the couch. This historical fiction novel, published in 2017 but written in a Dickensian style, imagines Charles Dickens’s life as a struggling writer coming up with the idea for A Christmas Carol. Even though it’s a modern book, you’ll be swept away by the old-timey Christmas feel.
52. In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
From one of the most famous Latinx authors today comes a story that spans countries and decades and is filled to the brim with love and compassion. Poignant, adventurous and sweeping, In the Midst of Winter, published in 2017, centers on two people in the winter of their lives and one young, undocumented woman whose life crashes into theirs and propels them into an unexpected but overdue love story. Much like the Christmas nativity story, the book touches on human rights, immigration and refugees—and what it means to truly embrace humanity.
53. Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry
OK, time for another one of the best children’s books to read at Christmastime. In this endlessly readable rhyming tale from 1963, the wealthy Mr. Willowby has a Christmas tree delivered to his home … but it’s a tad too big, so he lops off the top and tosses it away. That treetop makes its way through the forest as several non-human Christmas celebrants come across it and think it’ll make the perfect addition to their own homes. As for where it finally ends up, well, you’ll have to read Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree to see.
54. Nowhere to Hide by Nell Pattison
Seven loosely connected friends set out on a beautiful snowy walk in a nature preserve right after Christmas, on Boxing Day. Everyone has secrets, but only one is deadly—and the killer is in their group. Nowhere to Hide is a tense Christmastime thriller published in 2021 that untwists in a wintry wilderness and includes a well-crafted deaf character (the author teaches in the deaf community) among the cast who may or may not survive—or kill—amid the suspenseful turn of events once the first gunshot rings out.
55. A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg
A charming and sweet Christmasy book packed with interesting and quirky characters and their interwoven stories, 2004’s A Redbird Christmas is great when read in print and even better when read aloud on audiobook by the author herself. When Oswald moved to Lost River (a town that’s as much of a character in the story as any person) after a grim medical prognosis, he thought relocating to a warmer climate might help him live just a little bit longer. He certainly didn’t expect it would give him a whole different take on life—or some other gifts along the way.
Additional reporting by Meghan Jones.
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