Iconic Holiday Movies That Began as Books

We have never really lived near family.

There were a couple of years when we first tied the knot that we had family nearby, but that all changed when we graduated college, packed up our two kids, and moved several states west. 

When you live apart, the holidays can feel like a mixed bag.

On the one hand, you sorely miss the traditions you grew up with. You miss big family gatherings. You miss awkward family moments. You miss laughing together. Creating shared memories. You miss what feels normal.

On the other hand, when you live apart from your family, you are free to form new traditions, the ones the next generation will feel are normal, full of awkward moments and lots of laughter. You create shared memories with the family you created, memories that you'll cherish and will bring a smile to your face when you reminisce about them once the nest empties.

One of those memory-making times for our family was the tradition of watching movies all day on Christmas Eve. We made a big batch of trail mix, got comfy in front of the television, and spent the lazy day together watching our favorite Christmas movies. The older the kids got, the more creative we were when watching our favorites. Our new tradition inevitably morphed into quote-alongs with the characters on-screen. One year we even gamified our tradition with Christmas movie BINGO - complete with a prize for the winner!  

I was thinking about our fun, family Christmas Eve tradition this morning and wondered how many of our favorite Christmas movies were based on books (or short stories). 

If you love watching Christmas movies this time of year, I hope that reading about these Iconic Holiday Movies That Began as Books will help add a little merriment to your holiday season.

The Nutcracker

Whichever version of The Nutcracker you enjoy most (and there are quite a few to choose from!), they all stem from this 1816 short story by German author E.T.A. Hoffmann, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, a fantasy set on Christmas Eve in the early 1800s and centered around the excitement and anticipation of Christmas gifts.

It's A Wonderful Life

If you're familiar with George Bailey and have rooted for him to see the difference his one life has made on those around him during James Stewart's Christmas classic, you will love reading The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern. Originally written in 1938, self-published, and mailed to roughly 200 people as a holiday newsletter, The Greatest Gift quickly captured the hearts of everyone who read it - including director Frank Capra.

Die Hard

I know this is probably controversial to a lot of people, but Die Hard is a Christmas movie because...well...it takes place on Christmas Eve. There are Christmas decorations. There is an office Christmas party.  There's a Santa hat. Regardless of your personal opinion of is it/isn't it, the box office hit was based on the book Nothing Lasts Forever by author Roderick Thorp. If you are down for a completely untraditional Christmas story, Nothing Lasts Forever might hit your holiday sweet spot.

It Happened on Fifth Avenue

This lesser-known 1947 Christmas classic about two homeless men who turn a swanky Fifth Avenue home that's been vacated during the winter into temporary housing is a precious story about family and being together during the holidays. The movie was based on The Fifth Avenue Story (~1940s) by American author Herbert Clyde Lewis and screenwriter Frederick Stephani.

A Christmas Story

If you root every year for 9-year-old Ralphie Parker to get his ideal Christmas gift (the Red Rider air rifle), keep his glasses intact, and not shoot his eye out, you'll probably love to read author Jean Shepherd's In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, a collection of short stories upon which the movie was based. (I shared a little more about the book In God We Trust...here.)

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

If you're a die-hard Griswoldian (like me!), you probably have most of Christmas Vacation memorized "real nice." Does the thought of a black dickie under a tight white sweater makes you giggle? Do you aspire to tax the city's power supply with your Christmas lights display? Then you might find it interesting to know that this hilarious 1989 Christmas movie was based on a short story by John Hughes titled Christmas '59 that was published in (surprise!) National Lampoon magazine in December 1980.

Miracle on 34th Street

The 1947 Christmas classic about a department store Santa, a single mom, and her 6-year-old daughter who doesn't believe in Santa Claus is a seasonal must-watch for many. And now it can be a seasonal must-read, for Miracle on 34th Street by American author Valentine Davies was also a best-selling novella in 1947. (Note: It is unclear which came first, the movie or the novella.)

The Bishop's Wife

A holiday tale (1947) of one clergyman's prayers being answered in unexpected ways, The Bishop's Wife is another Christmas movie classic that tops the list of perennial favorites. Based on the 1928 novella by author Robert Nathan, the print edition of The Bishop's Wife has every bit as much charm, wit, and wisdom as the movie-version you love.

Holiday Affair

Another lesser-known holiday classic, Holiday Affair is a witty and warm love triangle without being too formulaic as a holiday story. It was based on John D. Weaver's short story titled The Man Who Played Santa Claus that was published in the December 1948 issue of McCall's Magazine.

Meet Me in St. Louis

This 1944 Christmas classic/musical was originally published as a series of short stories in The New Yorker magazine (titled The Kensington Stories) before it was published as a novel in 1942 by author Sally Benson.

Christmas with the Kranks

Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis teamed up to create a lovely little Christmas movie set in suburbia. The couple is new to empty nesting and feeling equal parts sentimental and seditious (at least to the HOA). This 2004 modern classic is based off John Grisham's 2001 novel titled Skipping Christmas and is a must-read for anyone in this life stage.


  • I have seen some of the movies listed (Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life are two huge favorites) but I haven’t read all the books/stories. I vote Die Hard IS a Christmas movie (idk why but I love that Die Hard series!). One of my favorite parts of the movie Meet Me in St. Louis is when Judy Garland’s character sings the beautiful classic holiday song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.❤️❤️❤️ Have a very Merry Christmas!

    Lynda A.
  • I’ve seen all those movies. I knew some of those where based on short stories or books, but not all of them. It is new to me that one of my favorite Christmas movies Holiday Affair is on this list. Of course I had to look for it. I found it online. Yay!

  • A Christmas Carol❤️


Leave a comment