The Stories Behind Five Favorite Christmas Classics
The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E. T. A. Hoffmann
This classic, written by the German author E. T. A. Hoffmann in 1816, tells the story of a young girl named Marie, whose favorite toy, the Nutcracker, takes her away to a magical kingdom of dolls after defeating the evil Mouse King in battle. In 1844, Alexandre Dumas retold Hoffmann’s tale in a sweeter and tamer version called The Story of a Nutcracker
that featured a young girl named Klara as the protagonist. Dumas’s adaptation was used as the inspiration for the 1892 ballet The Nutcracker
by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov.
Learn more: No Sugar Plums Here: The Dark, Romantic Roots of ‘The Nutcracker’
A Visit from St. Nicholas/’Twas the Night Before Christmas
This poem, first published anonymously in 1823, had a huge impact on Americans’ conceptions about Santa Claus and the delivery of gifts by an air-borne sleigh pulled by reindeer. Clement Clarke Moore, the professor of classics who claimed authorship of the work in 1844, was said to have written the poem to entertain his children on Christmas Eve. Many historians, though, believe that the poem was actually composed by Major Henry Livingston, Jr., a Revolutionary War officer known for his love of literature. No one really knows for sure who penned the famous poem, but it is still read and enjoyed to this day.
Learn more: Will the Real Christmas Poet Please Stand Up?
Who Really Wrote 'The Night Before Xmas'
A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. By Charles Dickens
This novella by Charles Dickens was first published on December 19, 1843 and was sold out by Christmas Eve. It tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an elderly miser who is haunted by the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. The transformation of Scrooge from a greedy, miserable man to a generous and compassionate one is the central theme of the story.
Learn more about the enduring legacy of this classic:
A Christmas Carol Retold
Bah! Humbug! Scrooge's Popularity Endures on TV and in Theater
Dickens at 200 Speaks to the World Today
Love or Hate This Season, Mr. Dickens Is the Reason
Why Dickens Wrote A Christmas Carol
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
This popular short by O. Henry was first published on December 10, 1905. The plot revolves around a young married couple, short on money, who are determined to buy secret Christmas gifts for each other. They each sacrifice something that is precious to them in order to purchase something for the one they love. The Gift of the Magi
’s enduring appeal has made it one of the most famous Christmas stories in the world.
Learn more: O. Henry’s Gift
If His Life Were a Short Story, Who'd Ever Believe It?
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss
This book by Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, first published in 1957, criticizes the commercialization of Christmas. How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
has consistently ranked as one of the top-rated children’s books. The story was adapted for an animated special in 1966 featuring narration by Boris Karloff. Jim Carrey starred as the Grinch in the 2000 live-action film, and Benedict Cumberbatch is the Grinch in the 2018 animated feature film.
Learn more: How the “GRINCH” Stole Hollywood