Our Favorite Essays And Stories About the Holidays
We dug into our archives for pieces worth celebrating
The holiday season—which I (arbitrarily!) define as beginning in mid-November and continuing through the first of the year—is a minefield. If you’re lucky, the bombs are carbohydrate- or confetti-filled. If you’re not, you’re facing roughly two months of celebratory gatherings and realizing that alcohol, while perhaps a helpful social lubricant, does not actually have the power to silence your mother’s unsolicited opinion about your ticking biological clock. However full or empty your cup of holiday cheer, these essays, stories, and lists are perfect for “the most wonderful time of the year.”
“Forsaken by the Bitch Goddess at Year’s End” by Carson McCullers
Sometimes the best gifts are curveballs. This story is like that. If you have a my-glass-is-half-empty perspective this holiday season, read this story. It’s seasonally appropriate, but it’s not saccharine—I promise you will not leave it feeling like Santa’s elves have sneezed Christmas glitter all over you. You will leave it with “a knife, instead of coal, in your stocking.”
At the end of the night it stopped snowing. The early dawn was pearl gray and the day would be fair and very cold. At sunrise Ken put on his overcoat and went downstairs. At that hour there was no one on the street. The sun dappled the fresh snow with gold, and shadows were cold lavender. His senses searched the frozen radiance of the morning and he was thinking he should have written about such a day—that was what he had really meant to write.
“Please Do Not Give Me Another Freaking Bookmark” by Carrie V. Mullins
As any voracious reader knows, the only thing you really want for Christmas is a book, which also happens to be the only thing your loved ones refuse to give you (in their defense, it’s not their fault, you’ve read everything). Unfortunately, this dilemma often results in the purchase of book-related garbage—and do you really need another bookmark? No, no you do not. If you’re worried about being on the receiving end of yet another pillow embroidered with a literary quote, I recommend sharing this list of alternative ideas with your friends and family this year.
“This Christmas Is Unlike Any Other, and Exactly the Same” by Tabitha Blankenbiller
The holiday season can often feel like a one-dimensional menagerie of glee, as enthusiasts fail to ask important questions like: just how many Christmas lights does this desiccated evergreen actually need? In her thoughtful essay, Blankenbiller discovers a book on Christmas in midcentury America that prompts her to unpack her own holiday traditions in the context of her own unusual cultural moment.
This collection I’m now surrounded with for the remainder of my quarantine holiday is the answer to a question I wouldn’t have dreamed to ask. How did you know it would get better? This sparkling, melancholy, fading world is its own reply. We didn’t. But we celebrated anyway. As you do. As people always have.
“Literary-Inspired Decoration Ideas for a Horrifying White House Christmas” by Elyse Martin
If you decorated your Christmas tree last year with pretty lights and festive ornaments, might I suggest mixing it up? This list is bursting with ideas for those interested in tossing tradition to the wind. Projectile vomiting, anyone?
“Why Do Made-for-TV Christmas Movies Hate Working Women?” by Elissa Bassist
Build Your Own Christmas Movie Romance, written by Riane Konc, is, in Bassist’s words, “a choose-your-own-escapade that spoofs every Christmas rom-com ever made.” In this fun and enlightening interview, Riane and Bassist discuss everything from Hallmark movies (in which “big city businesswoman is the worst thing you can be or do”), to the Venn diagram overlap between funny people and sad people, to the best way to end any story.
… the best way to end a story, no matter the genre or medium, is to slowly pull back to reveal that actually, the entire story has been taking place inside of a giant snowglobe this whole time. Imagine how much better A Little Life would have been if Hanya Yanagihara had done this. Imagine how much better The Wire would have been. And how much better this interview would have been. This is the only real way to end any story, and deep down, I think everybody knows it.
“The Worst Holidays in Literature” by Carrie V. Mullins
If your family is anything like mine, disaster—or maybe just the possibility of disaster—looms large in the month of December. If you’re anticipating capital-F holiday Fails, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in famous company. This list contains 11 sparkling examples of festive full-blown catastrophes. Cheers!
“Could the Three Ghosts of Christmas Save the Scrooges of the Trump Era?” by Reina Hardy
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of the most iconic and beloved of holiday tales. In her essay, Reina Hardy reconsiders the story and its applicability—or lack thereof—to America’s political woes.
The fantasy of A Christmas Carol, that the hearts of the powerful can be magically changed, has never felt more seductive than it does this year — and it’s never been clearer that it’s a fantasy.
“Literary Holidays You Should Add to Your Calendar” by Natalee Cruz
Christmas may have a monopoly on the commercial market, but it’s by no means the only holiday worth celebrating. Pencil in time for the literary holidays on this list in 2022—to which I’d add World Poetry Day (March 21), Banned Books Week (last week of September), and Mad Hatter Day (October 6).
“Christmas Alone Is Better than Christmas with a Creep” by Georges Simenon
If I’m being simplistic, Christmas-themed tales tend to come in two varieties: heartwarming and cozy, or dark and despairing. Georges Simenon’s classic “Christmas story for grown-ups” isn’t a Hallmark movie—it opens with a suicide, the protagonist is a prostitute, and it’s replete with lines like:
But does anybody want to go home on Christmas Eve knowing there is no one waiting there and with the prospect of lying in bed listening to the sound of music and happy voices coming through the wall?
That said, this short story still manages to capture the Christmas spirit. I can’t explain it, but it is nevertheless true.
“9 Books About Krampus and Other Holiday Horrors” by Preety Sidhu
While Saint Nicholas has historically bogarted all the cultural glory associated with the Christmas holiday (at least in the United States), Krampus is a figure who might appeal more to those reluctant to hang up their Halloween costumes for snowmen and caroling. If you’re looking to shake up your tinsel-laden December with a little gore, get in the Krampus spirit with the grisly tales featured on this list.
“The Mayor Who Gave His Town a Holiday for Sex” by Ramona Ausubel
Look, maybe Christmas isn’t for you. It’s not your style! You’re allergic to peppermint! There’s nothing wrong with that! If that’s the case, this story about an alternative holiday might appeal. Christmas isn’t for everyone, but surely Love Day is.
Tom thinks about a designated sex day. Everything around him is dreary. The economy droops. Winter is nigh. He takes solace in the fact that the whole city seems to have reached the sloppy bottom place, has sunk to the pond-scummy floor and that anything, it seems, would be an improvement. Tom begins to draft an announcement for the newspaper. He changes the name of the holiday to Love Day.