Fascinating History of Classic Christmas Stories and Favorite Holiday Tales
What is the Best Christmas Story?
We all have our opinions. Opinions influenced by childhood memories, family traditions -- and personal taste.
Holiday movies -- same.
But there are a few classic Victorian-era Christmas stories you see on most lists of favorite holiday stories -- like the Nutcracker, Twas the Night Before Christmas, and the granddaddy of all Christmas stories -- A Christmas Carol.
Other, more modern classics have found their way into people’s holiday hearts by capturing that special Christmas magic -- stories like The Polar Express and Elf.
If you’ve ever wondered about the history behind these classic Christmas stories, grab a cup of cocoa, light a candle, and read on!
Why did Charles Dickens write A Christmas Carol?
When Charles Dickens published his holiday classic A Christmas Carol in 1843, he hoped for a hit. He spent a lot of money on an 1842 tour of America and needed cash to support his family.
It worked -- A Christmas Carol sold 6,000 copies its first week -- the entire first printing!
But Dickens had other, less mercenary reasons for writing his famous Christmas story. He wanted to change Victorian society.
Through the plight of Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, Dickens hoped to “open the hearts of the prosperous and powerful towards the poor and powerless” -- according to biographer Michael Slater.
Dickens’ social commentary in A Christmas Carol encouraged a new era of charitable giving -- and improved circumstances for the poor and working class.
A Christmas Carol also influenced our modern Christmas traditions in many ways -- read more in our blog on How the Victorians Changed Christmas!
And don’t miss our holiday book candles inspired by A Christmas Carol.
Our Christmas at the Cratchit House holiday book candle smells of all things merry and bright -- cranberry, orange, and holiday spice!
Our Ebenezer holiday book candle is inspired by Scrooge’s love for his sister Fern -- woodsy cedar, sandalwood, and earthy green fern -- symbolize Scrooge’s transformation from “Bah Humbug!” to “Merry Christmas!”
Is the Nutcracker a book?
Many of us were introduced to the Christmas story of the Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky’s iconic ballet. Music like The Waltz of the Flowers and The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy has become synonymous with Christmas.
Discovering that the Nutcracker is based on a book -- not a folk tale -- may be a surprise.
The Nutcracker and the Mouse King was penned in 1816 by Prussian author E.T.A. Hoffman. Hoffman was a practitioner of German Romanticism -- a movement focused on imagination and childhood innocence in response to the Enlightenment.
Many of Hoffman’s stories feature inanimate objects coming to life. The Nutcracker and the Mouse King -- his Christmas story of toys that come alive and battle an army of mice -- keeps with this theme.
The Nutcracker and the Mouse King was adapted by Alexandre Dumas -- yes, he of The Count of Monte Cristo fame -- in 1844. The story is nearly identical to Hoffman’s. Still, Dumas lightened some of the story’s darker imagery -- making it less frightening for children.
It was Dumas’s version of the Nutcracker that would become Tchaikovsky’s classic Christmas ballet in 1892. The ballet would also change the main character’s name from “Marie Stahlbaum” to “Klara Silberhaus.”
Our Nutcracker Christmas book candle -- with the warm aromas of roasted nuts and brown sugar -- will keep you cozy this holiday season.
Or set a jolly mood at your Christmas party with our festive Sugar Plum Fairy holiday book candle!
Who wrote Twas the Night Before Christmas?
Many of us know Clement Clarke Moore’s famous holiday poem A Visit From St. Nicholas by its iconic first line, “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
But most of us know little about the author or the origin of this Christmas classic.
Moore first wrote the poem in 1822 -- for his children on Christmas Eve. Legend has it that he was inspired by the snowy streets of Greenwich Village -- as he made his way home after purchasing a Christmas turkey. His sleigh driver -- yes, he was in a sleigh -- is said to have been a jolly, bearded Dutchman.
Moore was a Hebrew scholar, and his day job was as a professor of Oriental and Greek Literature at the Manhattan General Theological Seminary. He drew on his knowledge of Dutch-American, Norwegian, and German holiday traditions in his vision of St. Nicholas.
He also gave us the official names of the eight tiny reindeer.
Moore is believed to have been embarrassed by the poem’s popularity after it was anonymously published in 1823. He did not claim authorship until 1844 -- when he allowed it to be included in a collection of his other poems.
Set the mood for your family’s reading of A Visit From St. Nicholas with our cozy Night Before Christmas book candle.
What is the story behind The Polar Express?
First published in 1985, The Polar Express has since become a holiday classic -- and the 1986 winner of the Caldecott Medal. Also an Oscar-winning animated film. Even a video game.
This classic Christmas story was inspired by the mental image of a child walking into the woods on a foggy night. The author, Chris Van Allsburg, said that the child in his head was curious about a train -- and where it was going.
Van Allsburg has also cited the Pere Marquette 1225 steam locomotive as an influence on The Polar Express. Built in 1941, the train was in service by the Pere Marquette Railway until 1951. Destined for the scrapyard, the locomotive was acquired by Michigan State University and put on display.
Growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, author Van Allsburg remembered playing on the engine as a child -- and being inspired by its number 1225 -- which to him symbolized 12/25, Christmas Day.
Proving that the best Christmas stories can be inspired by the smallest moments.
Is Elf based on a book?
While Elf was a movie first, one of the main settings is a children’s book publishing company. And Buddy’s story becomes a book -- in the film and in real life. So we took some creative licenses -- and that’s ok.
Because Elf is one of those stories that felt timeless when it was released in 2003. The film’s creative team was heavily influenced by the designs of Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment -- the creative force behind Christmas classics like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It felt familiar, like something from childhood -- because it was.
For extra Christmas nostalgia, they gave Ralphie -- Peter Billingsley -- from A Christmas Story a cameo.
We don’t have a candle based on Elf. Not yet, anyway.