Lots of people love reading holiday fiction: stories and poems, modern and classic, that are set during the Christmas season. But a great holiday read doesn’t have to be found in the fiction section. There are great nonfiction reads that will also help brighten up your holiday reading list. Improve your IQ (and learn some great cocktail party fun facts) with the best nonfiction books about the Christmas holiday, including essays, memoirs, pop culture, history, cookbooks, coffee table books and more.
what are the best nonfiction Christmas books to read this year?
Lots of people love to read novels set at Christmastime. It’s part of the simple joy of the season to curl up with a Christmas novel and a hot beverage.
But great Christmas reads don’t have to be fiction – there are lots of unique and entertaining non-fiction books about Christmas traditions and the holiday season. We’ve rounded up a list of some of the most intriguing ones. From essays and memoirs to cultural histories and even applied mathematics, there’s a book for that.
Whether you’re looking to level up your knowledge of the holiday, or in search of fun facts to share at holiday gatherings, have a look at this sleigh full of 15 non-fiction books that are fun reads about Christmas and the holidays.
the best Nonfiction Christmas Books
Here’s our take on the best nonfiction Christmas books, including essays, memoirs, pop culture, history, cookbooks and coffee table books.
1. The Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus: The Mathematics of Christmas by Thomas Oléron Evans and Hannah Fry.
First up on our list of the best nonfiction Christmas books is a mathematics primer. ‘Cause who says math can’t be fun? In The Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus: The Mathematics of Christmas, two mathematicians explain mathematical concepts using real-life holiday examples. From wrapping presents and decorating the tree to playing board games and cooking the perfect turkey, there’s math for that!
2. Christmas: A Biography by Judith Flanders.
Who came up with the idea of Christmas trees? And when did Santa make a first appearance in the sky? In Christmas: A Biography, a social historian casts her eye on Christmas secular myths, legends and traditions. From the practices of the Roman empire through the first appearance of Christmas trees in Central Europe, this is a fascinating cultural history.
3. Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris.
While not strictly just about Christmas, this collection of essays from humorist David Sedaris tackles many of the faintly ridiculous elements of the season. Entries include his account of his time serving as a Macy’s elf in Manhattan. His exploration of the puzzling Christmas traditions of other nations. And a true tale of a barnyard Secret Santa scheme gone terribly awry.
4. A Child’s Christmas in Wales: Gift Edition by Dylan Thomas, with illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman.
This beloved memoir is a classic in the nonfiction Christmas book genre. It’s a nostalgic recollection of Christmas past by the celebrated Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. There are warm scenes of family gatherings in a mistletoe-decked home. Cats by the fire. And mischievous little children. Sure, it was probably a bit more complicated than that – but isn’t it nice to imagine the family holiday of which dreams are made?
5. A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote.
First published in 1956, this autobiographical recollection from the acclaimed journalist and writer is a poignant account of his rural Alabama boyhood. Seven-year-old Buddy inaugurates the Christmas season by crying out to his cousin, Miss Sook Falk: “It’s fruitcake weather!” Thus begins an unforgettable portrait of an odd but enduring friendship and the memories the two friends share of beloved holiday rituals.
6. Miracle on 10th Street: And Other Christmas Writings by Madeleine L’Engle.
Miracle on 10th Street is a compilation of excerpts from some of L’Engle’s most beloved works. In many of the essays she penned throughout her life, we find her reflecting on Advent, Incarnation, Epiphany, mystery, and redemption. She had a sharp eye for the marvels and curiosities of everyday life, and this is a lovely collection to help highlight the simple joys of the season.
7. A Literary Christmas: An Anthology by the British Library
This seasonal compendium collects poems, short stories, and prose from acclaimed British writers, and provides an illuminating variety of perspectives and impressions. Writers as disparate as Jane Austen, Henry James, Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde are all on deck in this perfect read for underneath the Christmas tree.
8. Christmas: A Candid History by Bruce David Forbes.
Christmas: A Candid History follows Christmas from its pre-Christian beginnings through the spread of Christianity through Europe, and then through the 20th Century creation of the all-American capitalist holiday.
9. Santa Claus: A Biography by Gerry Bowler.
Santa Claus: A Biography takes a look at the legend of Santa Claus (and similar figures all over the world), and how he came to be the red-coated, beard-having fellow of our modern day folklore.
10. The Battle for Christmas: A Social and Cultural History of Our Most Cherished Holiday by Stephen Nissenbaum.
If you feel occasionally exhausted by or even cynical about the commercialization and social pressures of Christmas, consider the solution devised by the Puritans of colonial Massachusetts: they outlawed the holiday. In The Battle for Christmas, we learn that in America, Christmas was once an occasion for drunkenness and riots, not a call to joy and generosity. In this intriguing and innovative work of social history, we learn about how the secular celebration of Christmas had carnival origins. And how it was transformed, during the nineteenth century, into a festival of domesticity and consumerism.
11. Christmas at The New Yorker: Stories, Poems, Humor, and Art.
This marvelous collection from The New Yorker magazine features seasonal stories, poems, memoirs. and more, from a stellar roster of writers, including John Cheever, James Dickey, Richard Ford, Ken Kesey, Alice Munro, Vladimir Nabokov, S. J. Perelman, Adrienne Rich, and James Thurber. eighty years of wonderful keepsakes for Christmas.
12. A Literary Holiday Cookbook: Festive Meals for the Snow Queen, Gandalf, Sherlock, Scrooge, and Book Lovers Everywhere by Alison Walsh.
Another of our favorites on the list of the best nonfiction books about Christmas is A Literary Holiday Cookbook. From Christmas through New Year’s Eve, this new seasonal cookbook offers 17 full four-course holiday meals from 25 classic books. Some of the most famous instances of fictional fare have become synonymous with the holidays. Who can forget the plentiful food surrounding the Ghost of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol? The simple but generous and joy-filled Christmas gatherings at the Marchs’ in Little Women? Curl up by the fireplace to reread one of your favorite literary classics – and then head for the kitchen and make a special treat based on a menu from your beloved Yuletide tale.
13. The Christmas Season: Created By Scandinavian Artists.
The Christmas Season is a lovely coffee table book dedicated to the minimalist Scandinavian Christmas design aesthetic. It features a combination of stunning Nordic interiors, winter settings, Scandinavian Christmas traditions and DIY projects, including some traditional recipes.
14. Christmas at America’s Landmark Houses by Patricia Hart McMillan.
Christmas at America’s Landmark Houses is another one of the best nonfiction Christmas books this season. This second edition combines decorating, history, architecture, and interior design into a beautiful coffee table book. With more than 300 images, it offers a look at historic houses whose interiors have been transformed for Christmas. From Colonial Williamsburg to San Antonio, this is a holiday feast for the eyes.
The Christmas Book is a gorgeous seasonal addition to any coffee table. “A visual celebration of Christmas,” this volume features 200 images that illuminate a broad spectrum of global festive traditions from many different cultures.
16. We Are Santa: Portraits and Profiles by Ron Cooper.
We close our list of the best nonfiction books about Christmas with an photography book. We Are Santa is an endearing and enjoyable collection of portraits of fifty professional Santas from across America. From before and after portraits and behind-the-scenes stories of costumes and specialized training to anecdotes of on-the-job encounters, this is a jolly way to remind ourselves about what a visit to Santa is really all about.
best nonfiction Christmas books to read now
That’s it! Our picks of the best nonfiction books about the Christmas holiday including essays, memoirs, pop culture, history, cookbooks, coffee table books and more. What’s at the top of your list? Happy holidays – and happy reading!