8 Christmassy books for the festive season

Yasmina Floyer 15 December 2021

These Christmassy reads are sure to keep you feeling warm and fuzzy inside as the long winter nights draw in. 

The Icelandic have a tradition that speaks to my heart: Jólabókaflóðið, translating to "Christmas Book Flood" in reference to the annual release of new books which coincides with the festive season. A custom such as this feels an instinctive conclusion for a nation that boasts one of the highest rates of books per capita than any other country.

As winter draws in and the ink-black nights augment, bleeding into day, it is no surprise that at this time of year, books and yuletide are inextricably linked. Nature begins to turn inwards. Trees relinquish their leaves, standing bare and dormant. Animals nestle in hedgerows and underground for the long sleep. Unpicked fruit on a branch or on earth puckers, buckles, rots, whilst blood-red berries, in clusters like tight fists, are thrown into relief by the greyscale filter that marks this season. Our days are pronounced by receding light so that we must bring it inwards with candles, open fires, and tree lights.

Taking nature’s cue, this season is one of introversion and reflection and what better way to honour this than by curling up with a good book? Here are my top reads to get you into the festive season:


Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May

Wintering book cover
Image via Katherine May's Facebook page

Wintering, we come to learn in this beautifully written and comforting memoir, isn’t simply a seasonal phenomenon but a figurative one as well. Used to describe the darker periods in life, this book focuses on the peace that comes with respecting and responding to these fallow periods.

May writes poignantly about her experience of her husband’s sudden illness and how this event triggered major life shifts, both personally and professionally. Her descriptions of staying with the Samí people when visiting Tromsø, of sea swimming in the winter, of a solstice spent at Stonehenge, and the making of slow-cooked meals provides reassurance when read alongside such honest renderings of her own periods of Wintering.


The Haunting Season: Ghostly Tales for Long Winter Nights

The Haunting Season: Ghostly Tales for Long Winter Nights

So many of our festive traditions, from Christmas trees to exchanging cards can be traced to the Victorian era. Whilst some would say that spooky season has long since passed, Christmas was traditionally a time for sharing ghost stories (Dicken’s A Christmas Carol has four of them!)

Released this year, the Sunday Times bestselling collection features eight spooky tales from authors including Elizabeth Macneal, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, and Bridget Collins. Taking you from the bustle of Covent Garden Market to frosty Yorkshire moors, it is perfect to dip into on long dark nights.


The Christmas Chronicles: Notes, Stories & 100 Essential Recipes for Midwinter by Nigel Slater

The Christmas Chronicles: Notes, Stories & 100 Essential Recipes for Midwinter by Nigel Slater
Image via Rather Too Fond of Books

Nigel Slater describes himself as "a cook who writes" and this sensually written book contains the foundational elements of the festive season: food, nostalgia, and munificence.

Part memoir, part recipe book interwoven with myth and folktale, Slater shares his love for winter through his warm narrative voice. As he says, “The simple act of making someone something to eat, even a bowl of soup or a loaf of bread, has a many-layered meaning. It suggests an act of protection and caring, of generosity and intimacy.”


Murder on a Winter’s Night: Ten Classic Crime Stories, edited by Cecily Gayford

Murder on a Winter’s Night: Ten Classic Crime Stories edited by Cecily Gayford
Image via Frost Magazine

“In the bleak midwinter…murder awaits”

Released last month, this collection of classic crime tales includes offerings from masters of the genre including Arthur Conon Doyle, Dorothy L Sayers, and Margery Allingham.

Prepare to be chilled and delighted by stories including a Santa with secrets and a violent theft that takes on an unexpected turn.


The Light in the Darkness: A winter journal by Horatio Clare

The Light in the Darkness: A winter journal by Horatio Clare

I finished this book late into the night on Christmas Eve with nothing but candle and tree lights carving flickering pools of shadow around me. Clare’s evocative and lyrical depiction of British winter shows us how this season can be both brutal and giving if we can learn to look outwards and truly observe nature.

The text is structured as a winter diary and takes us through Clare’s experiences and feelings during this period, and he writes movingly about mental health and depression. Descriptions of rural farm life where layer upon layer of clothing worn indoors does little to inoculate against the perpetual cold encourage the reader to broaden their perspective of what connects us during this time.


Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

I for one cannot resist a good detective novel, especially one set during Christmas. Our beloved sleuth Hercule Poirot is charged with solving the bloody murder of multimillionaire Simeon Lee, which takes place on Christmas Eve following a family gathering. Christie’s trademark conundrum takes the form of a murder in a room locked from the inside… 

A satisfying read filled with all the elements I love most about a good Victorian detective novel: a quaint village, a murder-mystery set in a country estate, and unreliable characters.


Letters from Father Christmas by JRR Tolkien

Letters from Father Christmas by JRR Tolkien

Fans of Tolkien will enjoy the intimate insight into how the writer wrote as a father to his children whilst he was away from home fighting in the First World War. This imaginative and joyful collection of letters was written and illustrated by Tolkien between 1920 and 1943 to his children from the perspective of Father Christmas and his elvish secretary.

Published posthumously in 1976, I only came to discover this heart-warming epistolary relatively recently and delight in sharing tales of Father Christmas’s misadventures with my own children.


The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking
Image via Latte Lisa

I have reread this compact hardback book each winter since first receiving it, and this is a practice that I envisage will continue into all my winters. Authored by CEO of the The Happiness Research Institute, Wiking guides the reader towards all things hygge—the Danish term that defies translation. Described in a variety of ways from “the art of creating intimacy” to “coziness of the soul”, we are introduced to hygge through key principles including gratitude and atmosphere.

The book itself is filled with chapters on topics ranging from the way we light indoor spaces to the way we eat and dress, presenting well-written prose alongside science and research. Scandi-style illustrations and photography make for a cosy reading experience in a book both practical and uplifting!


Read more: How to have a happy, stress-free Christmas

Read more: The greatest family Christmas films

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter