Christmas is all about the traditional: gingerbread, brandied eggnog, tinsel, and curling up in front of toasty fires with good stories. Or, if you’re a poor motherless MFA student like us at The Brooklyn Review: a fifth of whiskey, a shoplifted fir-scented candle, and your roommate’s three-month-old copy of The New Yorker. Whatever.

Maybe you’re tired of reading Charles Dickens or Hans Christian Anderson. Maybe you’d like to cleanse the saccharine Christmas palate with the humorous, the strange, the dark, or the unusual. Let us recommend 12 stories — one per each of the 12 days of Christmas (duh) — to pleasantly complicate your holiday hygge.

  1. David Sedaris, “The SantaLand Diaries.” The incredible true-life story of a writer who survived working as a department store elf.
  2. Isaac Asimov, “Christmas on Ganymede.” The alien race of Jupiter’s moon are understandably fascinated when they learn of Santa Claus, with hilariously disastrous results.
  3. George Saunders, “Chicago Christmas, 1984.” Later edited and added to his short story collection In Persuasion Nation, this little memoir explores what it means to be a loser on Christmas.
  4. Willa Cather, “The Burglar’s Christmas.” This version of the prodigal son parable is also about being down on your luck during the so-called most wonderful time of the year.
  5. Ishmael Reed, “Past Christmas.” Excerpted from The Terrible Twos. A dystopian satire of American inequality and Christmas commercialism, in which Santa Claus has become expropriated, syndicated corporate property.
  6. Nikolai Gogol, “The Night of Christmas Eve.” Witches and devils come out to play on Christmas Eve.
  7. Grace Paley, “The Loudest Voice.” In this funny, critical look at American assimilation, a Jewish schoolgirl is chosen to narrate her school’s Christmas pageant.
  8. Alice Munro, “Queenie.” A Christmas cake becomes a very loaded symbol in this longer story about labor, class differences, and opportunity.
  9. Raymond Carver, “A Serious Talk.” Nothing like a separated family, an almost-torched house, and a smashed pie to complete the holiday season.
  10. Harlan Ellison, “No Offense Intended, but Fuck Xmas!” A jolly little rant with an unusual interpretation of A Christmas Carol.
  11. Fyodor Dostoevsky, “A Christmas Tree and a Wedding.” Holiday party awkwardness circa 1848.
  12. Sandra Cisneros, “Three Wise Guys.” The anticipation builds as a family waits to open a large, mysterious present.

Merry Xmas!

— The Brooklyn Review