As the snow falls faintly around us, and the soft lights of trees twinkle in the night sky, the holiday season is upon us. But while the season may look the same, it probably won’t feel the same as in year’s past. 

As the pandemic wages on, and with fewer relatives coming to visit for Christmas dinner, we each have a lot more time to ourselves. It’s the perfect chance to explore our other hobbies, and what better way to start the holidays than by cozying up with a book or two? Or five?

With that said, here are five books I recommend you get your mittens on this Christmas season.

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We begin with a novel perfect for anyone who loves mystery yet still seeks the holiday feel. Hercule Poirot’s Christmasby Agatha Christie expertly combines Christmas magic with Christie’s renowned and undiluted suspense. 

Simeon Lee is the wealthy, ill-tempered patriarch of his family, who’s definitely not known for his warm nature towards them, which is why we’re shocked when he invites his four sons and their wives back home for the holidays. While the four men didn’t know what to expect from their father, they would’ve never guessed what comes that fateful Christmas Eve: Simeon Lee, dead, laying in a pool of his own blood. As the story starts unraveling, and Detective Poiret begins investigating, we soon discover Simeon’s many secrets. And in true Christie fashion, everyone in the house is a suspect. 

Christie is a master of mystery. In Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, she explores a complex character, one who’s a sadistic tyrant to those around him and the victim of a heinous murder. Christie is notorious for her twisty, murderous tales, and this one is no exception.

While Christie’s novel brings an eerie feel to the holiday season, our next book takes a more heartwarming approach. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is a classic coming-of-age story of four sisters—Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth—who live with their mother in nineteenth-century New England. While their father is away serving in the Civil War, the girls must work together to support themselves. 

Most of the story follows the girls as they grow from childhood to womanhood, navigating many hurdles along the way, all during a time in which a woman’s greatest strength was the man she married. As the quartet grows older, together, they face the ups and the downs of life, marriage and children, death and heartbreak.

Little Women isn’t just a beautifully raw portrayal of growing up. It is also an enthralling depiction of the struggle that women face between familial obligations and following their own passions; a struggle that, even 150 years after Alcott penned it, is still relevant to women today.

If you aren’t after a long tale, our next pick is a short story. The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern follows George Pratt, who isn’t happy. More than that, he’s so displeased that on Christmas Eve, he stands by a bridge and considers taking his own life. That is, until a strange man approaches him. 

George confesses to the man that he wishes he was never born, and just like that, the strange man grants George’s wish. As George goes about his day, he comes to discover what it’d truly mean to never exist.

Set in 1943, The Greatest Gift is a sobering tale of what’s important: the people around us and the connections we make throughout our lives. Stern’s short story would later inspire the classic Christmas film, It’s a Wonderful Life. While Stern was best known for his books on the American Civil War, The Greatest Gift is a fantastic read and, while short, delivers the loving Christmas message just as efficiently as any other book on this list.

Our next recommendation is a classic written by a classic. Despite being written over 175 years ago, A Christmas Carolby Charles Dickens remains an essential novella around the holidays. 

The story follows a stingy, churlish old man named Ebenezer Scrooge. Despite the many people who try to invite him to Christmas festivities, Scrooge refuses to partake in the holiday spirit. It’s later that night when Scrooge meets his late partner’s ghost and learns he’s to encounter the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and yet to come. Over the next three days, each ghost shows Scrooge what could become of him if he doesn’t change his ways. 

Dickens wrote this classic at a time when the British were evaluating new and old Christmas traditions. Experiencing this type of discourse, and the transformations that were taking place, ultimately inspired Dickens to write this world-renowned story of realization and regret. 

We now end our list with another classic: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E. T. A Hoffman. The tale kicks off when a young girl, Marie Stahlbaum, receives a wooden nutcracker soldier from her godfather on Christmas Eve. When the clock strikes that night, Marie awakens to find the Nutcracker battling against mice, whose king had sent them to attack.  Soon, Marie learns that the Nutcracker used to be a young man, until the Mouse Queen cursed him. The Nutcracker must endure further battles with the Mouse King to break the curse.

Hoffman was a German author who wrote romance, fantasy, and gothic horror, and The Nutcracker embodies elements of all three genres. Written in 1816, Hoffman’s renowned story has been the focal point of many filmic and theatrical adaptations in the centuries since its release.

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Christmas is among of the most widely celebrated holidays, and all around the world people will be searching for different ways to keep the holiday spirit alive, even amidst a pandemic. For some of us, books are the perfect way to do this.

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