Jewish family lighting candles

5 Short Stories for the Holidays

Stories, though often overlooked, are just as much a part of the holiday season as carols, traditions, and feasts. And amid the chaos of our modern holidays, it can pay to make time to read. That may be a few quiet moments by the fire, or it could be sharing aloud to friends—whichever way it’s done, it provides another great way to experience the spirit of the holidays. Here are five short works you still have time to read this season.

Nativity Painting
“The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel,” by Duccio di Buoninsegna

For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio, by W. H. Auden

“Released by Love from isolating wrong,

Let us for Love unite our various song.”

Auden’s Christmas play tells the story of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in a completely unique way. Despair and confusion feature strongly in the plot, with hope and joy constantly battling them. Admittedly, it can be dense at times, but its message of peace is clear throughout, making it suitable both for the Christmas season as it is for the cold, hollow season after Christmas. Above all, it’s undeniably human. Auden doesn’t encourage despondent Man to aspire to Heaven, but rather reminds despondent Man that Heaven has condescended to Him, a worthy message for own downcast modern era.

(For a more in-depth review of For the Time Being, see my post from December 2016.)

“The Power of Light,” by Isaac Bashevis Singer

“He lit a match and there was light.”

Jewish family lighting candles
(Image from the National Library of Israel)

Singer’s tale of two Jewish orphans in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust embodies the spirit of hope that accompanies the holidays, especially Hanukkah. Although the characters’ boarding house has been destroyed and they are living in the collapsed basement, the two still manage to find a lone candle to light for the first night of Hanukkah. From that light, they pull the courage they need to attempt to flee the ghetto and certain death.

The story is simple and told almost like a fable, but Singer perfectly captures the inspiration that faith and love can bring during the holidays, even when that time includes difficulty and pain. That reminds us of the more important things of this season: not a perfect situation or adherence to tradition, but rather a hopeful spirit.

“A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” by Dylan Thomas

“Or I would go out, my bright new boots squeaking, into the white world.”

Thomas’ story of one of his boyhood Christmases evokes the simple happiness and peace that are associated with the holidays. It brims with warmth and delight, qualities underscored by Thomas’ conversational style. Joy and enthusiasm permeate the story, and reading it is a perfect way to recapture a childlike enjoyment of the holidays.

“A Christmas Memory,” by Truman Capote

“Her excitement is equaled by my own. I kick the covers and turn my pillow as though it were a scorching summer’s night.”

Painting of a snowy town
“La neige a Louveciennes,” by Alfred Sisley

Like Thomas, Capote details the events surrounding one of his boyhood Christmases. His story shares many sentiments with Thomas’, such as warmth and fondness, but it also places a special emphasis on personal relationships and the happiness that comes from sharing holidays with people one truly cares about. Capote also managers to capture the disappointment that occasionally occurs during the holiday season, as well as the sadness and nostalgia we feel when we look back on past holidays and remember friends who are no longer in our life. The story reflects what many people often feel during this time, which makes reading it a perfect way to observe the holidays.

“The Three Tests” (a folk tale of Anansi)

“So the tigers left and the animals held a private meeting to discuss what to do.”

This tale isn’t directly tied to the holidays, but some folklorists have recommended that it be read during Kwanzaa to help teach listeners about some of the holiday’s seven principles. In it, African animals face off against three tigers who attempt to take over the jungle, with an ensuing battle of wits and spirit. It’s a very short and lighthearted story, and it reminds us to stand up for equality and peace, especially against those who would threaten them—a message as equally important to this season as hope and happiness are.


For more holiday recommendations, see the blog posts “The First of Many Things,” “The Birds’ Christmas Carol,” and “Holiday Favorites,” by Dr. Kitti Carriker.


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