Best Short Christmas Stories

Tolstoy looking very much the
Russian equestrian Santa
Christmas short stories are the cream of the season. You get all of the joy (or sorrow), giving (or shaming) and love (or disdain) all in one quick dose. The best of these stories are ones that warm or break your heart. For some unknown reason, the season has inspired some of the best writers in history to tackle the underlying feelings of the holiday and turn them into unforgettable stories, my favorite of which are listed right here.

"The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry

Beside Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," which is a mite too long for my list, "The Gift of the Magi" is my favorite written Christmas story by giant leaps and bounds. For me, it sums up everything that Christmas is meant to be. As long as you have everything you absolutely need, you do everything you can to give to another, be it someone you love or a stranger. O. Henry brings this principle to heartwarming life with a newlywed couple. [Spoiler Alert] Each has a cherished possession. Each decides that the other deserves an accessory for the aforementioned possessions. They wind up selling the things they love the most for the person they love the most, so both of their gifts are useless, but the thought behind them and the sacrifice is an exquisite example of what Christmas is supposed to be.

"The Little Match Girl" by Hans Christian Anderson and "Matchless: A Christmas Story" by Gregory Maguire

Here, I combine two tales because the first is amazing and the second is another look at the first written by a man who has captivated millions by giving new angles to old pieces of literature. The former looks at Christmas through the eyes of the severely underprivileged and is the saddest Christmas story I have ever encountered. The latter takes the same story through the eyes of another underprivileged child who [Spoiler Alert] very narrowly escapes the same fate. Both are well worth reading.

"Papa Panov's Special Christmas" by Leo Tolstoy

For me, a non-religious person, the religious aspect of Christmas is typically just so much noise. I was raised with Christmas and raised with the giving values I now associate with it. I do not attribute them to religion, but I certainly have a right to celebrate, regardless, given the overwhelming Christmas culture in the U.S., but I digress. However, I am not less moved by a brilliant story simply because it contains an aspect of Christmas that I do not believe. Such is the case for me with this story. [Mild Spoiler Alert] It takes the figure of Jesus and puts it not into those who help the needy, but the needy themselves. [Bigger Spoiler] A kindly old man hoping to see his beloved savior on Christmas looks for him all day only to realize later that every person in need that he helped that day had something of Jesus in him or her. It's a lovely sentiment written by a true master, so what more could you want?

"The Greatest Gift" by Philip Van Doren Stern

Have you ever seen "It's a Wonderful Life?" If so, you know the story of "The Greatest Gift." It was this, for lack of a better word, wonderful story that inspired the film. In my opinion, "It's a Wonderful Life" is the most beautiful Christmas film ever developed. A cranky man just looking to get away can be hiding the most giving and self-sacrificing individual for miles. A dirty old beggar can be an angel. An old rotting house can be a home. Most of all, you can be much more important than you think you are. What you are to other people is what determines this. Anyway, all of those brilliant messages are still there in the short, but sweet Van Doren Stern story that started it all.

I know that this list is woefully short, especially considering the sheer number of Christmas tales out there. I'll just have to pick up where I left off next year and hope you get some good reading in this holiday season.

Merry Christmas,
Shelly Barclay

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