A Christmas Carol In Prose. Confession: I am not a Dickens fan. I find it somewhat sloggy, and though I have good intentions of attempting a serialized read to mimic how Dickens meant his books to be read, I can't get up the enthusiasm when there are other things to read. But my Dickens reticence does not extend to A Christmas Carol. First, the length--it's technically a novella, and the pace is downright sprightly for Dickens. Moreover, it has a bright wit that most film renditions don't quite capture what with the focus on the saccharine-sweet "God Bless Us Every One" moments. There are complex family dynamics and a far clearer understanding of a broken man, Ebenezer himself. Well worth the read.
Nutcracker by E.T.A Hoffmann. Forget the ballet for a moment. The book is weird, beautiful, and winsome. The ballet takes some sharp turns from the "kernel of a hard nut" found at the heart of the original book, and though the ballet is lovely, reading the book deepened my appreciation for the story. It's a love story, a story about growing up, and everything is possible--including a Land of Sweets that (spoiler) *isn't* merely a dream. Do yourself a favor and get the version illustrated by Maurice Sendak--yes, that Maurice Sendak--which captures exquisitely the fabulous, somewhat dangerous, fantasy that is Nutcracker. (The staging of the ballet that Sendak designed sets and costumes for is on Netflix--it follows the original story more closely than most and is a delight to watch after reading the book.)
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Not technically a Christmas story, but remember--the enchanted Narnia is always winter and never Christmas, and Father Christmas does make a brief cameo in the story. It's an old favorite that I love re-reading in the holiday burst of childhood nostalgia.
A Christmas Treasury of Yuletide Stories and Poems. This anthology is one of many out there, and though many of the works found in it are certainly found elsewhere, it's the one I happen to have. So I'm listing it. Ha. There are lesser-known gems in here--"The Water Bus" by Agatha Christie, "A Kidnapped Santa Claus" by L. Frank Baum (of Wizard of Oz fame--and yes, this is weird and fun, too), "The Sheep-Herd" by Sister Mariella (I cry every time), and "Christmas at Sea" by Robert Louis Stevenson (see previous). Take the discovery challenge and read something you've never stumbled across before--like unwrapping a gift.
Do you have any holiday stories or books that you come back to every year?