There's perhaps nothing cozier and more likely to get you into the holiday spirit than to curl up beside the Christmas tree, nestle under a blanket with a mug of something warm to drink and dive into the pages of a beloved book. Sure, this is a busy and chaotic time and we very well may not have the opportunity to slow down for such a luxury. If we do manage to snatch the time, odds are we may want that warm drink to be something a bit stiffer than hot cocoa. But, if you can steal that brief moment for yourself over these next few days, it might provide a much-needed antidote to the hustle and headaches of this otherwise frenetic season. I plan to make time to do just that, and so I've come up with my list of "Favorite Holiday Reads."
1. A Visit From St. Nicholas, by Clement C. Moore
You would be hard-pressed to find more well-known or beloved opening lines in all of literature than Moore's iconic beginning: "'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house / Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse." Sound familiar? Yes, I'm sure it does. You might even be able to go on for several more verses from memory. Moore's language is so lyrical and fanciful that we can practically see the sugarplums dancing in those little heads. Perhaps you can also envision the big-bellied laughter of Santa, guffaws that Moore likens to "a bowl full of jelly." What is for certain is that these lines about the "right jolly old elf" and his stealthy nocturnal visit are sure to fill your belly with the warm and fuzzies.
2. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
They may be missing Father and shivering through the harshest winter of the Civil War, but Marmee and her four March girls kindle the warm glow of the Christmas spirit for themselves and for those of us who join them on Alcott's classic literary journey. Any family holiday celebration would benefit greatly from the wisdom of Marmee, the kindness of Meg, the fiery will of Jo, the generosity of Beth and the spunk of little Amy. And words like the following help us to remember to keep it all in perspective: "You know the reason mother proposed not having any presents this Christmas was because it is going to be a hard winter for every one; and she thinks we ought not to spend money for pleasure, when our men are suffering so in the army. We can't do much, but we can make our little sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly."
3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss serves up morals and yuletide mischief like only he can in this quirky and iconic tale of a misanthropic ne'er-do-well who experiences a sudden change of heart. This story has inspired scores of spinoff movies, songs, plays and pop culture references -- so vivid are Seuss's words and illustrations. I still recall the childhood terror I felt as I looked onto the page and saw the spindly-fingered Grinch making off with all of the Christmas goodies. And something else we can't forget is how the warmth and generosity of the residents of Who-ville (Cindy Lou Who!) conquer even the cold-hearted Grinch.
4. Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling
Even with the threat of He-Who-Must-Not-be-Named resurfacing, or the menace of Fluffy the three-headed dog lurking down the corridor, it doesn't get much cozier than Hogwarts Castle at Christmas time. Warm up some butterbeer and slip into one of Mrs. Weasley's lumpy homemade sweaters, because Rowling gives new meaning to the phrase "the magic of Christmas."
5. The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg
A classic, and an all-time favorite of mine. My family reads this book every year on Christmas Eve. Van Allsburg's tale of the midnight journey to the North Pole speaks to the child in all of us, taking us back to those feelings of wonder and awe that visit only the young at heart. Every year, when my family gets to the final page of the book, it happens like clockwork: my dad begins crying and struggles to read the last lines. My mom, or whoever is sitting closest, takes over. And though each one of us can't help but giggle at the predictability of this family ritual, I suspect that each one of us is also asking ourselves: do I still hear the bell ringing? Can I still conjure that spirit of wonder, that non-cynical willingness to believe in good and generosity and magic?
6. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
Though Narnia is stuck under the deep-freeze of perpetual winter, no one there can remember the last time they've celebrated Christmas or had a visit from Santa Claus. Always winter but never Christmas? The horror! That is, until Peter, Susan and Lucy show up, signifying that the terrifying power of the White Witch might, at last, be waning. Santa, in C.S. Lewis's beloved first Chronicles of Narniatale, represents the return of the good guys and the rekindling of the indelible embers of hope. But it's not all just fun and games on Christmas day in Narnia; Santa happens to give the children really strategic gifts that go on to feature very prominently later in the epic tale. That Santa Claus knows what he's doing!
7. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
Last but most definitely not least, this Charles Dickens novella has been a beloved Noel favorite since its first publication in the mid-nineteenth century. Since that time it has never gone out of print. If you find yourself wanting to say "Bah humbug!" this holiday season, just remember the lessons of Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, as literature's most notorious miser visits with the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future. The message is one of generosity and gratitude, and you'll be shouting "Merry Christmas to us all!" through the streets in no time.