Collection of Classic Christmas Poems
Classic Christmas poems are a joy to read during the holiday season. They offer a glimpse into how Christmas was celebrated in the decades and centuries of the past. It is likely true that some of these poems have shaped how we view and celebrate Christmas today.
As you snuggle beneath the Christmas tree or before the fire, browse some of the poems gathered here for your holiday reading and reflection. They may inspire you to add new traditions to your celebration or even to take up your own pen or keyboard to compose your own verses.
Christmas Poems from the 17th Century
The traditions of the Christmas season in the 17th century combined the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus with “baptized” versions of pagan solstice revelries. The Puritans tried to rein it in, even to the extent of banning Christmas. But the poems from these times tell of holly, ivy, the Yule log, mince pie, wassail, feasting, and merriment.
- William Shakespeare, Lines spoken after the ghost’s exit from Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 1 (1603)
- George Wither,
“A Christmas Carol” (1622)
- Robert Herrick,
“Ceremonies for Christmas” (1648)
- Henry Vaughan,
“The True Christmas” (1678)
Christmas Poems from the 18th Century
This century saw political revolutions and the Industrial Revolution. From the bucolic list of gifts of fowl in “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” there is a transition to more somber issues of war and strife in Coleridge’s “A Christmas Carol.”
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” (1780)
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
“A Christmas Carol” (1799)
Christmas Poems from the 19th Century
St. Nicholas and Santa Claus became popular in the United States in the 19th Century and “A Visit from St. Nicholas” popularized the elements of nocturnal rounds of gift giving. The poem helped crystallize the image of a chubby Santa Claus with a sleigh and reindeer and arrival on the roof and down the chimney. But the century also has Longfellow’s lament about the Civil War and how the hope of peace can survive harsh reality. Meanwhile, Sir Walter Scott reflects on the holiday as celebrated by a baron in Scotland.
- Sir Walter Scott, “Christmas in the Olden Time” (from Marmion, 1808)
- Clement Clark Moore (attributed to him—but more probably written by Major Henry Livingston, Jr.),
“A Visit from St. Nicholas” (first published in 1823, likely written in 1808)
- Emily Dickinson,
“’Twas just this time last year I died” (#445)
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
“Christmas Bells” (1864)
- Christina Rossetti,
“In the Bleak Midwinter” (1872)
- Robert Louis Stevenson,
“Christmas at Sea” (1888)
Christmas Poems of the Early 20th Century
These poems are ones worth setting aside some time to muse over their meanings and lessons. Did the oxen kneel at the manger? Who gave the poet an unseen kiss under the mistletoe? What is the worth of a field of trees if not to be cut down for Christmas trees? What brought the Magi and other visitors to the manger? Christmas can be a time for contemplation.
- G.K. Chesterton,
“A Christmas Carol” (1900)
- Sara Teasdale,
“Christmas Carol” (1911)
- Walter de la Mare,
- Thomas Hardy,
“The Oxen” (1915)
- William Butler Yeats,
“The Magi” (1916)
- Robert Frost, “Christmas Trees” (1920)
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