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Cozy up with a good book for $0 this holiday season

An illustration of a shelf with holiday books

“Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.” A classic first line in literature, but does it belong to a murder mystery? A paranormal thriller? A sci-fi?

No. It’s the opening to "A Christmas Carol," Charles Dickens’ beloved story of Ebenezer Scrooge — a noted curmudgeon and workaholic who did not make merry on Christmas. Of course, published in Victorian England (179 years ago this month), Scrooge’s road to redemption doesn’t involve a therapeutic chat with friends or a visit from Jolly Old St. Nick. Instead, come Christmas Eve, Scrooge gets a visit from his dead business partner, Jacob Marley, followed by three very punctual ghosts who whisk him away to revisit all the low points in his life, before showing him a tombstone with his name carved on it. After a night like that, Scrooge finds his holiday spirit — and fast.

Google Books wants to help you find your holiday spirit (with no need for ghostly visitations) with a list of public domain holiday stories you can download and read — free of charge! Copyright law gives authors and their descendants a lifetime and more of exclusive rights to sell their works. When copyright expires, works enter the public domain, so that anyone can read, build on, and enjoy our shared cultural heritage.

Among the 40 million books, magazines and newspapers that Google Books has collected with the help of libraries and publishers are some of the season’s classic treasures. You can sit down with "Friends (A story for Hanukkah)," or read the text that inspired the Tchaikovsky ballet, "Nutcracker and Mouseking" — or gather up the kids on December 24th for a reading of the original, "Twas the Night Before Christmas."

These and hundreds of other out of copyright stories are available for $0, and can help anyone to follow some of history’s most noteworthy authors (and characters) into the restorative spirit of the season — by slowing down, reflecting, and maybe taking a fresh look at the world.

It worked for the immutable Sherlock Holmes, who, in “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” catches his thief (of course). Only — spoiler alert — overcome by the spirit of the season he does something decidedly un-Holmes — he lets the thief go.

Illustrative page from from “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” showing Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and thief

Sherlock Holmes in “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

In his 1902 classic "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus," L. Frank Baum — famous for writing "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" — offers an origin story for Santa Claus in which, long before setting up shop in the North Pole, Santa is raised in the woods by a nymph.

Three illustrated pages from The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, showing a log cabin, snowy woods, and a woodsman

When you’ve had your fill of prose, few mediums help you pause and find the right holiday cadence like poetry. This holiday season you can dive into collected Hanukkah poems from "The Standard Book of Jewish Verse," compiled by Joseph Friedlander.

An image of a page of verse by Philip M. Raskin from his poem "Chanukah Lights"

Opening stanza from Philip M. Raskin’s “Chanukah Lights

Since most texts written since the founding of Kwanzaa in 1966 are still protected by copyright, we’ve compiled a list of no-cost magazine articles whose publishers have chosen to allow full public access to help you explore the traditions and seven principles of Kwanzaa. You can start with TaRessa Stovall’s “Taking Stock of Kwanzaa”; or Malaika Horne’s 1994 article on the origins of Kwanzaa that helped spark a cultural revival.

However you and your family celebrate the holidays, Google Books wants to help you get into the spirit of the season — and maybe do things a little differently this year. And odds are that “free” + “reading a book” are two phrases you don’t hear too often these days. So pour a glass of eggnog and enjoy perusing this list of holiday and winter-themed works from Google Books.

The nice list (of holiday reads)

An image of a child playing in snow on a wintry day

From "Jimsy: The Christmas Kid" by Leona Dalrymple




Winter fun

More Information


(From our free magazine archive. Since Kwanzaa began in 1966, many works published about it remain under copyright, but some publishers have chosen to make their magazines fully readable online)

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