Mother Culture: Advent & Christmas Reading

The birthdays in our family are concentrated into four months extending from the end of November through to the end of March. It makes the time leading up to Christmas rather full. I’ve never read much in the way of short stories generally but I’ve enjoyed finding some for Christmas. If you are short on time for including some Mother Culture in your life at this time of year, how about some short stories with Advent & Christmas themes? I originally posted some of this in 2017 but have updated the post for this year. Here are some ideas & best of all, for most of them, they are either free to read online or to listen to on Librivox:

The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry van Dyke


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The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry van Dyke is my favourite Christmas story. The copy above is only 95 pages but it delivers an emotional punch for such a small offering. I love, love it! An ideal book if you’re short on time over the Christmas season.



The Story of the Other Wise Man (the edition above is published by Dover) is by far the best of the two stories in this book above but The First Christmas Tree is a worthwhile read also so I’ll quickly mention a bit about that first. Set in Germany in the eighth century, The First Christmas Tree tells of the encounter between Winfried (known mostly by his Roman name, Boniface) and a group of pagans celebrating a festival in the woods. Boniface intervenes and saves the Chief’s young son from being sacrificed to appease Thor.

“…out yonder in the wide forest, who knows what storms are raving to-night in the hearts of men, though all the woods are still? who knows what haunts of wrath and cruelty are closed tonight against the advent of the Prince of Peace? And shall I tell you what religion means to those who are called and chosen to dare, and to fight, and to conquer the world for Christ? It means to go against the strongholds of the adversary. It means to struggle to win an entrance for the Master everywhere. What helmet is strong enough for this strife save the helmet of salvation? What breastplate can guard a man against these fiery darts but the breastplate of righteousness? What shoes can stand the wear of these journeys but the preparation of the gospel of peace?”


The First Christmas Tree is free to read here.

Henry van Dyke tells the tale of ‘the fourth wise man,’ one of the Magi from the East who was to go with the other three to seek the Saviour of the world:


‘You know the story of the Three Wise Men of the East, and how they traveled from far away to offer their gifts at the manger-cradle in Bethlehem. But have you ever heard the story of the Other Wise Man, who also saw the star in its rising, and set out to follow it, yet did not arrive with his brethren in the presence of the young child Jesus? Of the great desire of this fourth pilgrim, and how it was denied, yet accomplished in the denial; of his many wanderings and the probations of his soul; of the long way of his seeking, and the strange way of his finding, the One whom he sought—I would tell the tale as I have heard fragments of it in the Hall of Dreams, in the palace of the Heart of Man.’
Highly, highly recommended!! I read it aloud one Christmas, and that was probably a mistake. I could barely read it towards the end as I was so emotionally affected by it. It is available to read online here and here. The book I linked to above is an unabridged Dover Publication HB and contains traditional simple, woodcut-type illustrations. Be aware that some copies of The Story of the Other Wise Man are revised or abridged. 
Henry van Dyck also wrote the lyrics to the hymn, ‘Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee’ in 1907. Some background to the hymn is here.
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
The Gift of the Magi  by O. Henry is a beautifully illustrated & unabridged hardback book. The story is also free online (click on text below) and is quite short so it lends itself well to a picture book format although it’s of more interest to adults, I think.
Librivox has a few different narrators reading The Gift of the Magi in its 15 short story collections, Stories  by a variety of authors such as L.M. Montgomery, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Hans Christian Andersen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Elizabeth Gaskell. Something for everyone!

The Birth by Gene Edwards

An unusual look at the Christmas story. I wrote about it here.


Christmas at Thompson Hall by Anthony Trollope (1815 – 1882)



This is a collection of five short stories in a lovely HB presentation & set during the Christmas season. Christmas at Thompson Hall is the longest of the stories and is an enjoyable, light-hearted read that relates a sort of comedy of errors on the part of a Mrs. Brown. Mrs. Brown is a very proper British woman who commits a blunder in a night-time encounter in a French hotel. By a series of ‘fibs’ to cover up her embarrassment, her innocent mistake develops into a serious situation.
Trollope’s description of Mrs. Brown:

‘She was a large woman, with a commanding bust, thought by some to be handsome, after the manner of Juno. But with strangers there was a certain severity of manner about her, – a fortification, as it were, of her virtue against all possible attacks, – a declared determination to maintain at all points, the beautiful character of a British matron, which, much as it had been appreciated at Thompson Hall, had met with some ill-natured criticism among French men and women.’

Christmas at Thompson Hall is available on audio at Librivox read by one of my favourite narrators, scholar and gentleman, Nicholas Clifford (scroll down to Chapter 21 where the story begins). Also free online at Gutenberg.


The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie (1960)

Agatha Christie described this collection of short stories as a book of Christmas fare with two main courses: The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding and The Mystery of the Spanish Chest. It also includes a selection of three entrees, and a sorbet!

YouTube has an impeccable recording of the story read by Hugh Fraser. Very British!



20 thoughts on “Mother Culture: Advent & Christmas Reading

  1. Great post. I remember reading The Gift of The Magi in school. It has been many years but I still seem to remember it vividly. I will try to reread it in the next day or so. My wife has been talking about reading that Agatha Christie collection this year. It looks t be a great read for the season.

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  2. I came across some old Agathie Christie radio audios on YouTube & The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding was one. I haven’t listened to them but I might try them out when I get around to doing some ironing,

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  3. Pingback: 20+ years of Family Read Aloud Chapter Books | journey & destination

  4. ??? i’ve got all of O’Henrys stories and have read some of them. they’re inventive and occasionally surprising… The Ransom of Red Chief remains the best, tho… i recall rolling around on the floor with laughter at a very young age and it was all that Porter’s fault, lol…

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  5. Thank you so much for sharing links to some of these. I won’t even have to look for them at the library. I have read a couple of these, like The Gift of the Magi and Christmas at Thompson Hall, but not The Story of the Other Wise Man or The First Christmas Tree.

    And I think I may share the Agatha Christie link w/ my 13-yo. She LOVES mysteries, and I already having her reading another Christmas “murder” mystery, which sounds odd. But she likes them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re welcome, Ruth.
      My girls read AC from around that age and love her books. My boys not so much and I was a late starter. I was more interested in Dorothy Sayers & Josephine Tey but now I really enjoy reading Christie. Good that she was so prolific!


  6. Thanks for posting about these. I have been adding to my Christmas Book collection, both for me and for the family, over the last five years. I downloaded the two by Van Dyke and the Anthony Trollope form Gutenberg onto my Kindle. I am very grateful for those links as my book budget has been severely depleted in the last month! I bought This House of Brede for the Rumer Godden Birthday Reading week starting on the weekend. I actually forced my Bookclub to read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and they were all pleasantly surprised, having associated Dickens with ‘hard or tedious’. As Cleo@Classical Carousel says – not twaddle.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Guess what arrived in the mail this morning, perfect timing for Christmas reads and one that I had never read? “The Story of Holly & Ivy” by Rumer Godden with Illustrations by Barbara Cooney! I wish I could attach my photo to show you all, but as I opened the book, which is second hand, a homemade laminated bookmark fell out. It says Zara’s Bookmark, with a drawing of her pets saying “We Love Books” and on the back is a drawing of the Lost & Found Department. My heart broke a little. Zara, your beloved picture book and bookmark did get lost but now they are found and another Grandma and child are enjoying and loving them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s such a gorgeous story, Cate! I borrowed a copy from the library but it had a different illustrator. I’d love to have the Barbara Cooney version. Where did you get it from?
        Secondhand books sometimes come with little treasures. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I have found so many books that were unavailable or too expensive elsewhere at ‘World of Books’ and they have free delivery. That’s where these two Rumer Godden books came from, at reasonable prices. They do also have rare, more expensive copies.

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