There are books ideal for reading at Christmas and there are books set at Christmas. The two don’t always cross over, but we wanted to guarantee here that they do.
Every one of these books is perfect Christmas reading for the holiday season and they are all, of course, books set at Christmas.
Some are anthologies; others are poems; a surprising (possibly alarming) number of them are crime and mystery novels.
It seems to be a strange reality that mystery novels and the holiday season go together like cranberries and turkey. Like gingerbread and men.
Festive Poems, Stories, and Books Set at Christmas
Before you go any further, yes, Charles Dickens is here. Yes, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas makes an appearance (though not how you might expect).
And, yes, some of these books set at Christmas are suitable for children, while others are not. Bear that in mind. Happy reading and happy holidays.
Dickens at Christmas by Charles Dickens
Yes, of course we’re going to mention Charles Dickens’ beloved Christmas stories. Not only mention them, in fact, but start with them. It is thanks to Charles Dickens that Christmas stories are as beloved as they are.
So many of our favourite cartoons and TV shows have their own holiday specials, and this is probably thanks to the commercial successes of Charles Dickens’ works.
For many of us, a reading of A Christmas Carol (or a viewing of one of its many adaptations) is a Christmas tradition, especially on Christmas Eve. And, yes, A Christmas Carol really is peak Christmas story, but Dickens actually wrote several stories about, or set during, the Christmas period.
In this new hardcover collection from Vintage Classics, with a beautiful cover illustration to get you in the mood for a Victorian English Christmas, you’ll find all of Charles Dickens’ beloved Christmas tales in one place. This is a perfect Christmas gift for bookworms and an ideal collection if you’re looking to enjoy more than one Christmas story.
When it comes to books set at Christmas, nobody has ever done it better than Charles Dickens.
Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien
This is, without a doubt, one of the most sweet and wholesome Christmas books that money can buy. Whether you have children of your own and are looking for the perfect Christmas book to spur the imaginations of your young bookworms, or you’re simply someone who appreciates the magic of imagination and the Christmas spirit, this is the Christmas book for you.
Between roughly 1920 and 1940, each Christmas, J.R.R. Tolkien would pen a letter for his children and sign it from Father Christmas. Each letter would be a small story of life at the North Pole.
These letters would fill his children in on the antics and dramas of the North Pole. In true Tolkien style, he had slowly and, in some detail, built up an entire world of elves, reindeer, and even dangerous cave-dwelling orcs.
Today, you can pick up a stunning hardcover of Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien. Each letter was hand-written by Tolkien himself, and some are even decorated with sketches and paintings which he did to accompany his vivid Christmas stories. These really are dream stories for any child at Christmas time.
Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld universe has a fantastical equivalent for most things real-world (it is satire after all), and that includes Christmas.
On the Discworld, its equivalent of Christmas Day — Hogswatch — takes place on the final day of the year, when the titular Santa-esque Hogfather flies his sleigh and hands out presents, just the same.
When Hogfather begins, however, a batch of mysterious entities has approached the Assassins Guild with a request to dispose of the Hogfather, and against all odds they manage it.
Now, the grim reaper himself must step in and keep Hogswatch going by flying the Hogfather’s sleigh and delivering toys to all the children of the Discworld, while also figuring out what happened to the Fat Man.
Much like A Christmas Carol, this is a story about the true meaning of Christmas, about the importance of hope and faith, and how those things make us human and kind and good.
This is a charming novel full of all the usual satire and wit you’d expect from Terry Pratchett, but this novel lacks cynicism; focussing instead on kindness and goodness, as most books set at Christmas should.
A Literary Christmas: An Anthology
The British Library has here compiled what very well might be the ultimate Christmas anthology. A hefty collection of Christmas poems, stories, and extracts from some of the English language’s best-beloved writers.
Sorted into categories such as The Nativity, Christmas Fare, and Seasonal Snow and Ice, this Christmas anthology features a frankly astonishing selection of writers from across history, from William Shakespeare, Percy Shelley, and William Wordsworth to Henry James, Jane Austen, and, of course, Charles Dickens.
The talent and joy on display here is unmatched. You’re treated to poems both famous and obscure, as well as short Christmas tales and snippets from larger books that capture the Christmas spirit in a single moment.
This is a seriously gorgeous and heartwarming ode to the Christmas period, featuring illustrations and bound in a beautiful hardcover edition. Thank you for this, British Library. It’s perfect.
Christmas Holiday by W. Somerset Maugham
Undoubtedly best-known for his beloved classic novel The Painted Veil, W. Somerset Maugham also penned a slightly lesser-known book set at Christmas time: the surprisingly dark and bleak Christmas Holiday.
This book follows a young and hedonistic Cambridge graduate named Charley, and is set at the same time in which it was written: 1939. This was both a post- and pre-war period of unrest in Europe, and the novel reflects this.
Charley heads to Paris for what he hopes will be a fun Christmas adventure but ends up becoming a dark exploration of the true colours of 1930s Paris.
While many, many books set at Christmas take the form of murder mysteries and gritty crime dramas (more of those below), W. Somerset Maugham has written one of those here, but disguised it as a quirky and hedonistic drama. When Charley falls in with a Russian refugee, he learns the story of her marriage to a murderer. This book twists and turns, to say the least.
Christmas Holiday is certainly one of the more unique books set at Christmas that you’re likely to find. It checks the boxes for a Christmas setting and a murder, but it also sprinkles in the political drama of pre-war France.
Festive Spirits: Three Short Stories by Kate Atkinson
In 2019, Two-time Costa Novel Award winning novelist Kate Atkinson released a small collection of short stories set at Christmas, just in time for the festive period. This is a slender book of three little stories, each perfect to digest over a single day. The stories are titled Lucy’s Day, Festive Spirit, and Small Mercies.
Because of how short these tales are, they make for a perfect three-day reading experience over Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. These are uplifting stories set at Christmas that will leave you feeling warm and toasty. Ideal fireside reading; to be enjoyed with a gingerbread man and a mug of hot chocolate.
Midwinter Murder: Fireside Tales from the Queen of Mystery by Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie. Oh, Agatha Christie. What an incredible author. A writer like no other. Excuse us for getting a little too excited here; we at Books & Bao have only recently discovered the true magic of a Christie novel and, oh, the wasted years.
Agatha Christie penned a frankly absurd number of wonderful, imaginative murder mystery novels across a prolific and unmatched career.
And while her full-length novels starring Poirot and Miss Marple are her best known (as is her magnum opus And Then There Were None), she also wrote an impressive number of short mystery stories.
While these short stories have all appeared in various publications over the decades, they have now all been collected up into one single hardcover book titled Midwinter Murder.
Every one of these is a story set at Christmas, and you’ll find an impressive number of them here, including The Clergyman’s Daughter, A Christmas Tragedy, and The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge.
For sheer quality and quantity alike, you can’t do much better than this collection for books set at Christmas.
Agatha Christie always, always guarantees to reel in every reader with a unique setup, only to then floor them each time with a twisted plot and an exciting reveal.
There’s something satisfying and irresistible about a murder, a mystery, or a murder mystery set at Christmas.
Perhaps it’s the juxtaposition of joy and tragedy, or the perfect pairing of dark and cold with death and blood. Whatever it is, Christie understood it, and Midwinter Murder is a must-read Christmas book for any bookworm during the festive period.
Christmas is Murder by Val McDermid
Speaking of mystery novels and Christmas going hand-in-hand. Many readers of crime and mystery fiction agree that the title of Queen of Crime passed from Agatha Christie to Scottish author Val McDermid. And so, it only makes sense for McDermid to offer us her own selection of mystery stories set at Christmas.
Christmas is Murder is a 2020 book of short crime stories that has arrived just in time for the holiday season. And, at roughly 250 pages, it’s the perfect book to enjoy by the fireside over an evening or two.
These are chilling tales that will leave you with the feeling of an icy hand trailing up and down your spine. Every story is unique in how it threatens and frightens, but each is guaranteed to thrill and satisfy its readers. And, as a nice bonus, the hand-drawn cover art is simply stunning.
Read More: Must-Read Japanese Mystery Novels
Murder in Midwinter: Ten Classic Crime Stories for Christmas
We need to prefix this one with something a little odd. Every year, from 2016 onwards, this book — a collection of crime stories set at Christmas, written by a variety of classic crime writers — has been rereleased with a different title.
In 2016, this anthology was named Murder Under the Christmas Tree. Then Murder on Christmas Eve, A Very Murderout Christmas, Murder at Christmas, and Murder in Midwinter.
We have no idea why this happens every year but we’re excited to see what Profile Books rebrand this book as next year. Whatever the case, what you have here is an anthology of Christmas stories: all tales of crime and murder and mystery set at Chrtistmas.
If, like so many other readers during this time of year, you feel the insatiable urge to read something dark and mysteries, this collection of crime stories should satisfy that craving.
Catt Out of the Bag by Clifford Witting
This is not only another classic mystery story set at Christmas, but it is also another book first written and published in 1939. Unlike Agatha Christie and Val McDermid, however, Clifford Witting is not half as well-known. Collectors of mystery novels, especially from the Golden Age of Crime, will undoubtedly be familiar with his works, however.
Catt Out of the Bag was Clifford Witting’s Christmas murder (as should be painfully clear by now, every crime writer needs one). This is a Christmas crime novel that follows the investigation of one Inspector Charlton in the town of Paulsfield.
Inspector Charlton is following the case of a man who has disappeared from a group of carol singers one quiet December. The more he uncovers, however, the more likely it becomes that this will soon be classified a murder case, rather than a missing persons case.
This recent reissue from Galileo Publishers means that dedicated fans of the classic mystery novel finally have a newfound chance to enjoy this classic Witting novel, and so do you.
Another Night Before Christmas by Carol Ann Duffy
‘Twas the night before Christmas… so the classic poem by Clement C. Moore begins. Here, however, in true Duffy fashion, poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy has reworked the classic poem, read aloud by so many and for so long each and every Christmas season, into something exciting and fresh.
Another Night Before Christmas is a beautiful, stirring, and contemporary take on the most classic of Christmas poems. Following the same rhythm and rhyme scheme of the original poem, Duffy’s take follows the night-before-Christmas adventure of a young girl who escapes downstairs to discover, one and for all, if Santa Claus is real.
Another Night Before Christmas is a modern poem that seeks to teach young children the importance of belief in something magical. It repels cynicism in favour of magic and mystery. It will reignite the feeling of the fantastical in adult readers and enchant the imaginations of younger readers.
This is a must-read book for Christmas, especially for any parents with young children. It’s a book for bonding over magic and mystery and joy.
A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
Though he is best known for his novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s and his “nonfiction novel” In Cold Blood — as well as for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s unforgettable depiction of him in Capote and the fact that he was a lifelong friend of Harper Lee — Truman Capote also wrote, in 1956, a recollection of his childhood Christmas rituals.
Often touted as an American holiday classic, A Christmas Memory is exactly as described: a short book set at Christmas, in which Truman Capote joyfully muses over a Christmas-time memory of making fruitcake with his cousin from scratch. Reading this story aloud to children and family members is strongly encouraged.