5 best short stories about the holidays

The holidays are all about tradition, which is another way of saying there’s a lot to be said for the simple pleasure of doing the same thing at the same time, year after year. Maybe that explains why, in a world constantly brightened by the arrival of new books, I find myself reading the same Christmas stories, year after year. Here are my top five yuletide tales – with an extra stocking stuffer thrown in for good measure.

1. 'A Christmas Memory,' by Truman Capote

In a season too often focused the latest toy or gadget, Capote’s lightly fictionalized tale of his own childhood on a Depression-era Alabama farm is a powerful reminder that the greatest Christmas gift of all is simple human affection. Capote’s story recounts the deep friendship between the young Buddy and Sook, a childlike older cousin who becomes his surrogate caregiver. The story unfolds in Capote’s deeply poetical style, and within this heart-tugging tale of Buddy and Sook’s inventive efforts to make a memorable Christmas in a hardscrabble household, there’s plenty of humor, too. Sook’s search for whiskey to season her fruitcake is, in Capote’s telling, a jewel in itself. The opening of “A Christmas Memory” starts the holidays as decisively for me as each year’s first strains of “Jingle Bells”:

"Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar."

You can find “A Christmas Memory” in a Modern Library edition of Capote’s collected holiday tales: “A Christmas Memory, One Christmas, & The Thanksgiving Visitor.”

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