Favorite Free Christmas Stories

A Christmas Carol original book cover illustration

If you’re looking for something Christmas-y to read, here’s four of my most favorite holiday stories. (Maybe reading on the Kindle can become a new Christmas tradition!) These stories are all available as a free Kindle ebooks, and at least one of them has been around for almost 200 years! Lots of people enjoy curling up someplace cozy, and taking a quiet reading break over the holidays. And this year, more and more of them will doing it with the Kindle!

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.


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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…


A Visit From Saint Nicholas by Clement Clark Moore

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…!

My Favorite Free Christmas Stories

A Christmas Carol original book cover illustration

Amazon’s having a special sale on Kindle ebooks for Christmas Day. For December 25th only, they’re selling The Polar Express and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo at a big discount (as well as five romance novels, plus The Lightning Thief, and even Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter) To see the sale, just point your browser to tinyurl.com/ChristmasDayEbooks.

But there’s also a lot of really wonderful free Christmas stories that are available all year long…

There’s one short Christmas story that I absolutely love — by one of my favorite authors. Ernest Hemingway called him “one of the two best authors in America” — and yet his greatest novel isn’t available on the Kindle. Nelson Algren wrote The Man With the Golden Arm, an unforgettable look at Chicago and its lowlifes, in 1950, and 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 also isn’t available on the Kindle. But one 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 they’d tried to swindle their customers!

But by the end, they’ve learned a valuable lesson about Christmas.

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, and 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.

Two Years Before the Mast (Christmas chapter) by Richard Henry Dana
When I lived near San Francisco, it was especially fun to read what was essentially a blog post about Christmas in the city…written in 1836! Back then, the only people in San Francisco were the handful of hard-working sailors who ferried animal hides around the continent. And their life was still hard, even on Christmas Day!

Friday, December 25th. This day was Christmas; and as it rained all day long, and there were no hides to take in, and nothing especial to do, the captain gave us a holiday, (the first we had had since leaving Boston,) and plum duff for dinner. The Russian brig, following the Old Style, had celebrated their Christmas eleven days before; when they had a grand blow-out and (as our men said) drank, in the forecastle, a barrel of gin, ate up a bag of tallow, and made a soup of the skin…

This was 13 years before California became a state, and it was a special experience to read this book more than 175 years later. It’s one of the first moments where I’ve felt such an intimate connection to someone who lived nearly two centuries ago. While young Richard Henry Dana was traveling in what was then a foreign land, he seems lonely but intrigued, which gave him a special willingness to share his sincere human reactions with a touching humility.

I love how the Kindle can connect you to different people in different places, and even from different times. And maybe that feeling is even more special on Christmas Day, because it reminds you of the grand traditions that have been handed down for centuries, and the universal feelings behind it.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Free Sample of a Great Lost Novel

Picture of Nelson Algren in Chicago

Ernest Hemingway called him “one of the two best authors in America” — and yet his greatest novel isn’t available on the Kindle. Nelson Algren wrote The Man With the Golden Arm, an unforgettable look at Chicago and its lowlifes, in 1950, and it won a National Book Award. But apparently, there’s more to the story — according to The Chicago Reader.


“Her name was Margo. She was a 22-year-old addict hooking for her heroin, and when Nelson Algren met her, in the mid-40s in Chicago, while he was working on The Man With the Golden Arm, he violated the immortal principles he’d set down in A Walk on the Wild Side: “Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own.” Algren took Margo in, putting her up in his Wicker Park digs, and eventually got her clean. Years later, when she wrote him a note letting him know she was engaged to a guy she wanted him to meet, he was devastated. His feelings for her had become so strong and complicated that when he tried to put her into the center of a novel he couldn’t finish it.

“About 300 pages wound up in the Algren archives at Ohio State University, and in edited form they make their first public appearance as “Entrapment,” from Entrapment and Other Writings, a new collection of previously unpublished work by Algren edited by Brooke Horvath and Dan Simon for Seven Stories Press.”

But there’s more than just an excerpt from the lost novel, according to the book’s introduction. “Some of Algren’s very best writing never appeared anywhere and was left finished but completely unpublished.”
Other stories appeared only once, in long-ago magazines, until they were finally gathered for this special collection on what would’ve been Algren’s 100th birthday. The hardcover edition was nearly 300 pages long, and “Every piece in Entrapment and Other Writings is irreplaceable.” If you order the sample from Amazon, you’ll get the editor’s introduction, but no actual text by Algren himself. But fortunately, The Chicago Reader has put a stunning excerpt online.

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 — and towards the end, near the paperback’s 500th page, he’d slyly included an excerpt from this unfinished novel, Entrapment. There was also a funny story about his affair with Simone de Beauvoir, a sympathetic examination of the baseball players in the Chicago “Black Sox” scandal of 1919, and his perspective on watching his great novel, The Man With the Golden Arm, being turned into a Hollywood melodrama that starred Frank Sinatra.

Unfortunately The Last Carousel also isn’t available on the Kindle. But last 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 they’d tried to swindle their customers.

Nelson Algren always remembered the forgotten people — from jockeys and boxers to drifters and gamblers. And now this new book lets us remember Nelson Algren…