Here’s four of my all-time favorite free holiday stories. (Maybe reading on the Kindle can become a new Christmas tradition!) These stories are all available as a free ebooks, on the Kindle (or on Project Gutenberg). And at least one of them has been around for almost 200 years!
Old Christmas by Washington Irving
He was America’s first internationally popular author, and he wrote two timeless stories — Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. But he also fathered many of our Christmas traditions. At the age of 29, when he was starting his career in 1812, Irving added five nostalgic Christmas stories to a collection of writing, and for one dream sequence, imagined what would happen if St. Nicholas flew over the forests in a flying sleigh. That’s believed to have inspired many of the subsequent stories about Santa Claus and his flying reindeer!
And the stories had an even greater impact. Irving also researched holiday traditions as far back as 1652, according to Wikipedia, and his popular stories “contributed to the revival and reinterpretation of the Christmas holiday in the United States.” Even Charles Dickens himself said that Irving’s stories influenced his own famous novella, A Christmas Carol.
It’s not just a story about Christmas. It’s partly responsible for the way that way celebrate it. The story by 31-year-old Charles Dickens “was one of the single greatest influences in rejuvenating the old Christmas traditions of England,” according to Wikipedia, which notes it was published just as new customs were established like tree-decorating and Christmas cards. The book helped to popularize these traditions, though ironically, the story was immediately pirated after Dickens published it, and he realized almost no profits from the story himself!
I’ve always enjoyed the way Charles Dickens writes, with simple yet very moving stories — and I’m not the only one. Every year on Amazon’s list of the best-selling free ebooks, A Christmas Carol always crashes into the top 20. And interestingly, it turns out that Charles Dickens followed this up with even more Christmas stories — including The Cricket on the Hearth, The Chimes, and The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain.
And all three of these stories are also available for free in Amazon’s Kindle store…
Here’s something fun to download: the original text of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” (One historian called it “arguably the best-known verses ever written by an American,” according to Wikipedia.) And there’s some interesting trivia about this story. In its first printing in 1823, Santa’s reindeer were named “Dunder” and “Blixem,” which are the Dutch words for “thunder” and “lightning” — but over the years their names changed into the more familiar-sounding “Donner” and “Blitzen”!
Merry Christmas, Mr. Mark by Nelson Algren
There’s one short Christmas story that I absolutely love — by one of my favorite authors. Ernest Hemingway called Nelson Algren “one of the two best authors in America” — and his greatest novel, The Man With the Golden Arm, offered an unforgettable look at Chicago and its lowlifes. (In 1950, it won a National Book Award). But my personal favorite Algren book was always The Last Carousel, another dazzling collection of short works from throughout his career, which he’d published in 1973.
At the age of 64, the author had hand-picked each story himself – though unfortunately The Last Carousel isn’t available on the Kindle. But one lucky December, I discovered that you can still read one of its most touching stories online. On December 4, 1949, the Chicago Sunday Tribune published “Merry Christmas, Mr. Mark,” a story Algren wrote at the height of career, at the same time as his award-winning novel. The 40-year-old novelist remembered being a young newsboy in the 1920s, braving the snows to sell The Saturday Evening Blade at an intersection by the cemetery — and how the newsboys had tried to swindle their customers!
But by the end, they’d all learned a valuable lesson about Christmas…!