Stories for Christmas and the festive season from The British Library Women Writers Series

When one picks up a Christmas anthology and flicks through the list of stories and authors, it’s not unusual to come across the old favourites – a bit of Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, the Christmas excerpts from Little Women, perhaps something by Laurie Lee or Kenneth Williams. But for a Christmas story enthusiast, the need is always for something different.

Here’s a peek at a few of my favourite Christmas anthologies.

What is exceptional about the Christmas anthology from the British Library Women Writers collection is the selection of lesser known stories and some women authors – who at least for me, were largely unknown. 

The clever chronology of the stories also meant that the stories picked up on a wide range of Christmas activities – from Christmas shopping, Christmas preparation, carol singing concerts, pageants and pantomimes, decorating the tree, skating and much more. They could be read in one go or spread over the latter half of December and the New Year.

I approach a short story anthology a bit unconventionally. A bit like a pick and mix – one story here, one story there, a title that catches my fancy next. Unsurprisingly, I dived straight into EM Delafield’s ‘General Impressions of a Christmas Shopping Centre’ first, because I’m a huge Provincial Lady fan. The excerpt is Delafield at her anecdotal best – but I would have loved something more substantial from her. 

The rest of the stories were lovely too. I laughed at The Christmas Pageant by Barbara Robinson. I thought Ticket for a Carol Concert was wonderfully crafted. Christmas Bread was poignant and full of sentiment. Snow by Olive Wadsley was dreamy and intimate and beautifully romantic. Elizabeth von Arnim’s Christmas story set in Bavaria had the effect of transporting you to a winter wonderland, celebrating German traditions of Christmastimes of yore. A favourite was The Little Christmas Tree by Stella Gibbons. The descriptions of the tiny Christmas tree really caught my attention. Richmal Crompton penned such a clever, short, memorable story that made me smile at the end.

‘Snow’ by Olive Wadsley is a lovely ode to the romance of Yuletide. Set in a country house with a select gathering of friends and family at Christmas, a young couple, Viola and John, who are not apparently suited but who find themselves increasingly drawn to one another, expectantly look for a resolution to their burgeoning love on Christmas Day. Enter an old flame of Violas and implicatory footsteps in the snow and young love is very much threatened. There is a beautiful lyrical and tender atmosphere to this story and beautifully brings out the hopefulness and romance of the festive season. 

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ by Kate Nivison tells of the nighttime wanderings of a small mouse residing in a small household. The mother is snoozing in an armchair in the living room in front of the Christmas tree, waiting for quietness to fall on her house in order to fill her children’s stockings. She is eating a misshapen mince pie and boozy warm milk, presumably left out for Santa. The story exudes a sense of the 1980’s in its ambience – making it feel very much like a Christmas from my childhood.

I should mention that I like reading cosy stories for Christmas. ‘The Turkey Season’ by Alice Munro – didn’t fit that description – at least not for me – so I chose to skip that particular one. 

I don’t think it’s possible for a short story anthology to tick all the boxes – especially when a wide range of authors are selected. But I must say – ‘Stories for Christmas and the festive season’ by the British Library, really did that for me. This book was the highlight of Christmas reading season 2022 and I’m sure I’ll be reaching for it, during many Christmases in future. 

A story by Cornelia Otis Skinner even featured the very festive topic of skating.

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