Posted on December 1, 2015
By Holly Hibner and Mary Kelly
It seems like there are more fiction authors than ever who are publishing Christmas titles. Many can be categorized as “women’s fiction,” but there are a number of Christmas crime books as well. Why is it so popular (and lucrative) to write a Christmas novel? Is this a new trend or simply a tradition?
Christmas novels have been around since roughly Charles Dickens’ time. Sir Walter Scott wrote the Christmas poem “Christmas in the Olden Time” (1904) and William Sandys’ Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (1833) are examples of Christmas titles that pre-date Dickens, but A Christmas Carol by Dickens was among the first Christmas titles in the form of what we consider a “novel” today. Dickens felt that the best way to educate people about poverty and social injustice was through an emotional, touching Christmas story, rather than through political pamphlets. He wanted people to be kind and generous toward one another, and used “the spirit of Christmas” to make his point (1).
Why are Christmas novels so popular today? We would like to suggest three reasons: religion, stress, and commercialism. First, there are many denominations within Christianity, and many ways to practice the religion, but a common theme in Christianity is the idea of “sharing the good news.” Some denominations put emphasis on testimony, missionary work, and evangelism, and they appreciate reading and sharing the meaning of Christmas through fiction. Some examples of Christmas novels by authors of Christian fiction include The Christmas Light by Donna VanLiere, Christmas at Harrington’s by Melody Carson, and A Wreath of Snow by Liz Curtis Higgs.
Let’s be honest, though: some Christmas novels are more secular in nature. Sure, they’re religious by the very definition of Christmas, but they may include more worldly or materialistic themes, or they may use Christmas as a setting more than a theme. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol falls into this category, since his message was about human compassion more than the birth of Christ. How about Anne Perry’s Christmas mysteries? They’re equal parts murder and Christmas cheer, and very little Christian testimony. Debbie Macomber is another author of many, many Christmas novels which are set at Christmastime and reflect core Christian values, but which do not preach Christianity or the “reason for the season” to her readers.
Our second reason for why Christmas novels are so popular is stress. Christmas is a stressful time. It costs money. It takes time and planning. It means hosting parties. It may mean difficult family situations (in-laws, step-families, estranged family members, etc.). It may require travel. Everyone who celebrates Christmas, no matter what their reasons (religion, tradition, or even just cultural adherence), can relate to the stressors of the season. A nice Christmas story can take the pressure off and remind you why we do it at all.
And finally, there is commercialism. Ankar Ghate wrote in U.S. News and World Report that even as an atheist, “the pleasure of exchanging gifts as a token of friendship and love remains” (2). He points out that “the commercialism of Christmas reinforces our goodwill.” Gift-giving, then, makes Christmas inclusive to non-Christians. Christmas novels are big sellers. Books make nice gifts, and Christmas books are appropriate for the season. Publishing houses cash in during the gifting season just like any toy manufacturer or clothing designer. That means that authors make money too, making the writing of Christmas novels pretty appealing. Kinky Friedman admitted that he wrote The Christmas Pig to make money. “Money,” he said. “That’s why I wrote it. I wrote it to pay the rent.” (3).
There have been holiday specials on TV for decades (A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Frosty the Snowman, to name a few) and now we have holiday “special editions” of book series. Children’s literature has an exceptional number of books in this category, like the Berenstain Bears and the Joy of Giving, Pete the Cat Saves Christmas, and The Pups Save Christmas from the Paw Patrol series. It’s an easy way to expand a series and cash in on Christmas.
When one writer is insanely successful in a genre, other authors take note. Richard Paul Evans wrote The Christmas Box in 1995, and when it became a bestseller, other authors surely started thinking, “Hey, I can do that! I want to make a jillion dollars! I want to write a Christmas bestseller!” And they did. If you search for the subject “Christmas fiction” in the WorldCat database, limited to books for adults, you can limit the list by year. There you can see how many books match your search terms for each year. There was a sharp uptick of books in this category starting in 1995. I don’t know that it was specifically because of Richard Paul Evans, but his book The Christmas Box is one example of a very popular book published that year. The numbers go pretty steadily upward from 1995 (120 titles), to over 500 titles in this category in 2014.
Clearly, Christmas fiction for adults is more popular than ever. It is possibly more trend than tradition by the rising publishing numbers, but still tradition when you consider books as old as A Christmas Carol in this category. What can we say? Christmas sells books.
About the Authors
Holly is the Adult Services Coordinator at the Plymouth District Library in Plymouth, MI. She has a mild obsession with collection quality (ok, maybe not so mild) and can be found at the Readers’ Advisory desk dreaming up read-alikes.
Mary is the Youth Services Librarian at the Lyon Township Public Library in South Lyon, MI. She, too, is obsessed with collection quality, and has taken it up a notch with never ending shelf lists, spreadsheets, and inventory. Mary has a special knack for linking books to readers of all ages.
Together Mary and Holly are the authors of “Making a Collection Count: a holistic approach to library collection management.” They also tweet at @awfullibbooks and blog at awfullibrarybooks.net.
- Forbes, B. (1 October 2008). Christmas: A Candid History.University of California Press,
- Ghate, O. (2009, December 18). Commercialism Only Adds to Joy of the Holidays. Retrieved November 19, 2015, from http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2009/12/18/commercialism-only-adds-to-joy-of-the-holidays
- Little Christmas novels seem to be growing as big as Santa. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2015, from http://onlineathens.com/stories/121806/living_20061218011.shtml#.Vk49QXarSih