Christmas and literature are closely connected in my family. As a tradition, before we tear open presents or eat pumpkin and pecan pies, we read. There is the Christmas story directly from the Bible — typically Matthew 1:18 to 2:12 and Luke 2— and then the annual reading of The Gift of the Magi, by American writer O. Henry.

The former tells the miraculous particulars of Christ’s birth in a rather matter of fact way. “The time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.” The latter tells the story of a depression-era couple — Mr. and Mrs. James Dillingham Young — who, according to O. Henry, “sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house.” Reading The Gift of the Magi nearly always brings about some form of sniffling for it is such a tale of self-sacrifice.

This annual reading reminds me how powerful the written and spoken word can be.

In this post, I have assembled five, Christmas-themed poems. My hope is that they are powerful enough to inspire and move you. Merry Christmas.

Christmas Bulbs

The Cowboy’s Christmas Ball by William Lawrence Chittenden

To the Ranchmen of Texas

‘Way out in Western Texas, where the Clear Fork’s waters flow,

Where the cattle are “a-browzin’,” an’ the Spanish ponies grow;

Where the Northers “come a-whistlin'” from beyond the Neutral Strip;

And the prairie dogs are sneezin’, as if they had “The Grip”;

Where the cayotes come a-howlin’ ’round the ranches after dark,

And the mocking-birds are singin’ to the lovely “medder lark”;

Where the ‘possum and the badger, and rattlesnakes abound,

And the monstrous stars are winkin’ o’er a wilderness profound;

Where lonesome, tawny prairies melt into airy streams,

While the Double Mountains slumber, in heavenly kinds of dreams;

Where the antelope is grazin’ and the lonely plovers call—

It was there that I attended “The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball.”

 

The town was Anson City, old Jones’s county seat,

Where they raised Polled Angus cattle, and waving whiskered wheat;

Where the air is soft and “bammy,” an’ dry an’ full of health,

And the prairies is explodin’ with agricultural wealth;

Where they print the Texas Western, that Hec. McCann supplies

With news and yarns and stories, uv most amazin’ size;

Where Frank Smith “pulls the badger,” on knowin’ tenderfeet,

And Democracy’s triumphant, and might hard to beat;

Where lives that good old hunter, John Milsap, from Lamar,

Who “used to be the Sheriff, back East, in Paris sah!”

‘T was there, I say, at Anson with the lovely “widder Wall,”

That I went to that reception, “The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball.”

 

The boys had left the ranches and come to town in piles;

The ladies—”kinder scatterin'”— had gathered in for miles.

And yet the place was crowded, as I remember well,

‘T was got for the occasion, at “The Morning Star Hotel.”

The music was a fiddle an’ a lively tambourine,

And a “viol came imported,” by the stage from Abilene.

The room was togged out gorgeous-with mistletoe and shawls,

And candles flickered frescoes, around the airy walls.

The “wimmin folks” looked lovely-the boys looked kinder treed,

Till their leader commenced yellin': “Whoa! fellers, let’s stampede,”

And the music started sighin’, an’ awailin’ through the hall

As a kind of introduction to “The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball.”

 

The leader was a feller that came from Swenson’s ranch,

They called him “Windy Billy,” from “little Deadman’s Branch.”

His rig was “kinder keerless,” big spurs and high-heeled boots;

He had the reputation that comes when “fellers shoots.”

His voice was like a bugle upon the mountain’s height;

His feet were animated an’ a mighty, movin’ sight,

When he commenced to holler, “Neow, fellers stake your pen!

“Lock horns ter all them heifers, an’ russle ‘em like men.

“Saloot yer lovely critters; neow swing an’ let ‘em go,

“Climb the grape vine ’round ‘em—all hands do-ce-do!

“You Mavericks, jine the round-up- Jest skip her waterfall,”

Huh!  hit wuz gettin’ happy, “The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball!”

 

The boys were tolerable skittish, the ladies powerful neat,

That old bass viol’s music just got there with both feet!

That wailin’, frisky fiddle, I never shall forget;

And Windy kept a-singin’-I think I hear him yet-

“Oh Xes, chase yer squirrels, an’ cut ‘em to one side;

“Spur Treadwell to the centre, with Cross P Charley’s bride;

“Doc. Hollis down the middle, an’ twine the ladies’ chain;

“Varn Andrews pen the fillies in big T Diamond’s train.

“All pull yer freight together, neow swallow fork an’ change;

“‘Big Boston,’ lead the trail herd, through little Pitchfork’s range.

“Purr ’round yer gentle pussies, neow rope ‘em! Balance all!”

Huh!  hit wuz gettin’ active-“The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball!”

 

The dust riz fast an’ furious; we all jes’ galloped ’round,

Till the scenery got so giddy that T Bar Dick was downed.

We buckled to our partners, an’ told ‘em to hold on,

Then shook our hoofs like lightning, until the early dawn.

Don’t tell me ’bout cotillions, or germans. No sire ‘ee!

That whirl at Anson City just takes the cake with me.

I’m sick of lazy shufflin’s, of them I’ve had my fill,

Give me a frontier break-down, backed up by Windy Bill.

McAllister ain’t nowhar: when Windy leads the show,

I’ve seen ‘em both in harness, and so I sorter know—

Oh, Bill, I sha’n’t forget yer, and I’ll oftentimes recall,

That lively gaited sworray—”The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball.”

 

 

The Trapper’s Christmas Eve by Robert Service

It’s mighty lonesome-like and drear.

Above the Wild the moon rides high,

And shows up sharp and needle-clear

The emptiness of earth and sky;

No happy homes with love a-glow;

No Santa Claus to make believe:

Just snow and snow, and then more snow;

It’s Christmas Eve, it’s Christmas Eve.

 

And here am I where all things end,

And Undesirables are hurled;

A poor old man without a friend,

Forgot and dead to all the world;

Clean out of sight and out of mind . . .

Well, maybe it is better so;

We all in life our level find,

And mine, I guess, is pretty low.

 

Yet as I sit with pipe alight

Beside the cabin-fire, it’s queer

This mind of mine must take to-night

The backward trail of fifty year.

The school-house and the Christmas tree;

The children with their cheeks a-glow;

Two bright blue eyes that smile on me . . .

Just half a century ago.

 

Again (it’s maybe forty years),

With faith and trust almost divine,

These same blue eyes, abrim with tears,

Through depths of love look into mine.

A parting, tender, soft and low,

With arms that cling and lips that cleave . . .

Ah me! it’s all so long ago,

Yet seems so sweet this Christmas Eve.

 

Just thirty years ago, again . . .

We say a bitter, last good-bye;

Our lips are white with wrath and pain;

Our little children cling and cry.

Whose was the fault? it matters not,

For man and woman both deceive;

It’s buried now and all forgot,

Forgiven, too, this Christmas Eve.

 

And she (God pity me) is dead;

Our children men and women grown.

I like to think that they are wed,

With little children of their own,

That crowd around their Christmas tree . . .

I would not ever have them grieve,

Or shed a single tear for me,

To mar their joy this Christmas Eve.

 

Stripped to the buff and gaunt and still

Lies all the land in grim distress.

Like lost soul wailing, long and shrill,

A wolf-howl cleaves the emptiness.

Then hushed as Death is everything.

The moon rides haggard and forlorn . . .

“O hark the herald angels sing!”

God bless all men — it’s Christmas morn.

 

 

Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old, familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

 

And thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along

The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

 

Till ringing, singing on its way,

The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,

A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

 

Then from each black, accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

 

It was as if an earthquake rent

The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn

The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

 

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

 

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

 

 

A Christmas Carol by G.K. Chesterton

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,

His hair was like a light.

(O weary, weary were the world,

But here is all aright.)

 

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast

His hair was like a star.

(O stern and cunning are the kings,

But here the true hearts are.)

 

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,

His hair was like a fire.

(O weary, weary is the world,

But here the world’s desire.)

 

The Christ-child stood on Mary’s knee,

His hair was like a crown,

And all the flowers looked up at Him,

And all the stars looked down.

 

 

A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clark Moore

’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;

A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.

His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”