The Christmas Letters
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The Christmas Letters

3.56 of 5 stars 3.56  ·  rating details  ·  578 ratings  ·  78 reviews
In The Christmas Letters, three generations of women reveal their stories of love and marriage in the letters they write to family and friends during the holidays. It's a down-home Christmas story about tradition, family, and the shared experiences of women.

Here, in a letter of her own, Lee Smith explains how she was inspired to write this celebrated epistolary novel:


Paperback, 136 pages
Published August 19th 2002 by Algonquin Books (first published 1996)
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Jan 01, 2011 Staci rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Staci by: Nan
Shelves: 2010-reads
This book started out great, told in the fashion of Christmas letters that spanned three generations. I really liked Birdie Pickett and the letters that she wrote to family members. It was a great glimpse into days gone by from 1944 and through to the early 1960's. Then Mary, her daughter, took over. I liked her letters too, until the last two years where I thought she got way too personal for a Christmas letter. Forget the third generation as this daughter only wrote one letter. I think the aut...more
Carla Hostetter
I always enjoy the work of Lee Smith. This short novella telling the story of three generations of women through their Christmas letters is a very fast read and yet it encompasses all their life experiences. What is not said is as important as what is. In the end some family secrets are revealed, like the cheating husband, no surprise really, but others do astound. All women have been in these situations, making the best of things. We can relate.
Jill Robbertze
This is a delightful little novel. A family saga told through the Christmas News letters written by 3 generations of women who not only share their stories but also recipes. A great little read when you want something lighter (and shorter) as I often I do after having read a spell of more emotionally taxing non-fictions.
Elizabeth Schlatter
Like a snack pack of Cheetos, this was cheesy and predictable and small. It was just what I wanted.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Okay, it's a little over three months until Christmas so, of course, I am already anticipating the holidays. I have already purchased several gifts and wrapped one. But who am I kidding? I will let the holidays sneak up on me like they do every year and then I will run around like my hair is on fire. Plus, I probably won't be able to find the gift that's already wrapped until a few days after the tree is taken down. It's a tradition. But I digress. One of the aspects of the holiday season that I...more
This was quite a surprisingly good read. It is my bookclub’s December read and I really enjoyed it. It is actually several letters written by 3 generations of women in the same southern family. These are the familiar X-mas letters that people like to send with their X-mas cards that tell friends and relatives all the things that happens in their life that particular year. Scattered within the letters are some recipes. Some I’m thinking of jotting down and trying myself. This was a unique way to...more
This Christmas novella gave an heartwarming portrait of three generations of a family in North Carolina from the 1940's through the early 2000's. The story is presented through the Christmas letters of first Birdie, a young married woman originally from West Virginia who's living with her in laws while her husband serves in the South Pacific. We follow Birdie through the years with her letters, including the establishment of the family dime store and her lunch room to the death of her husband in...more
Sandra Strange
The problem with this small Christmas book is that it's too politically correct. The story is a series of Christmas letters, at first personal, then the letters one includes in Christmas cards, beginning with letters from a new bride at the beginning of WWII to her mother, ending with her granddaughters family Christmas letter. At one point, one of the women writes that people are stereotypes. And that's the problem with this book: the characters are too much politically correct stereotypes. The...more
Debbie Maskus
Read for Evening Edition Book Club 12/1999 & Southern Voices 12/2006
Another book club selection, one that I read many years ago, but each reading brings new insights. This is a Christmas rendering by three generations of women, starting with Birdie in the 1940's, and ending with Birdie's granddaughter, Melanie, in 1996. All the women are living in the South, basically NC. I like the history of times: the wars, love, children, infidelity, hardship, and the everyday living. The men are all sec...more
Surely the holidays are a time when anyone’s heart can grow at least one size bigger. While syrupy-sweet family stories may not always be your thing, may we suggest this truly heartwarming novella written in Christmas letters?
Three generations, ensconced within the pages of this brief book, center on Christmas letters, giving brief glimpses into the lives of their writers, complete with relevant recipes. The reality of those lives often disappears between the lines of the cheerful Christmas renditions, leaving spaces redolent of undiscovered truth; truth waiting its season to blossom with meaning in this delicious little novela by Lee Smith.

Quote to remember: "As a child, I thought adults were, by definition, wiser t...more
Dec 08, 2013 Linda added it
Shelves: christmas
Browsing at the local library for some holiday reads, I was drawn immediately to this little novella by the collage-like holiday wreath of over-the-years letters/stamped envelopes/sepia-toned photos making up the cover of author Lee Smith's The Christmas Letters. I love the concept (boldface the word 'concept') of the book - the stories of three generations of a family tied together through Christmas letters over a span of 52 years, the last letter coming full circle in the young lady being inte...more
Elizabeth Farry
I loved this. But I'm a sucker for nostalgia and letters. In any case, it's a great little snapshot of American life over generations.
I will miss reading about the lives of the women who wrote the Christmas letters in this book. I felt I had come to know them. Since the letters were sent to various recipients, which differed from year to year, the content of each letter was chosen accordingly by its writer. However, some items in the letters seemed to be included mainly to remind the writer of experiences she did not want to forget.

My only complaint about this Kindle version is that the cover of the book as it appears in my...more
Love Lee Smith books. Any woman will identify with the characters, especially so soon after Christmas. You want to preserve your mother's traditions while establishing new ones, too. Timeless story of taking care of others first.
Letters written first by Birdie, then her daughter Mary, followed up with a final letter from Melanie, Mary's daughter.
The letters are a little longer than normal Christmas letters to let the reader know more a out the characters. The information is interesting enough, but then in the 1990's Mary writes a letter that was shocking and heart breaking. Melanie's letter, I think, was supposed to counter what her mother wrote and be uplifting. It wasn't enough to gloss over the betrayal. And I would...more
Feb 17, 2008 Peg rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: women
Recommended to Peg by: sandy holland
Since moving to NC I've enjoyed learning about and reading books by contemporary southern writers. Lee Smith, of Chapel Hill, NC is one of my favorites. Quick read, 127 pages of charm.
Description from jacket: "With her typical easy wit and down-home charm, Smith fashions a novella from that most infamous of genres, the annual family letter that often arrives in Christmas cards." "The lives of three generations of women are woven together in this classic story of mothers, daughters, their familie...more
Monica Happy Reading All!!
A nice book just to read during the holiday or even after. This book is filled with Christmas Letters and recipes. I found the letters interesting. It made me think about my Christmas and if my mom ever wrote letters to family.

I loved how the letters started out as just being written by hand to being carbon copies to being printed on a computer. Just added to the time line and seeing how things change. I enjoyed reading the recipes and wonder if I would be able to make any of them.

Nov 07, 2008 Gloria rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: family loving people
Recommended to Gloria by: Terry
This is a wonderfully written novella. The author takes you into the life of a North Carolina Family via Christmas letters written to family members. It is the story of three generations of women and how all of lives have changed through the years. Lee really made the characters talk to you as if you were there. I did figure out the secrets of the family, but only because their problems indeed were just like our family. It is a terrific read, finished it in one evening. Time well spent.
I didn't love this. There's a situation that I don't want to spoil if you haven't read it, but you could see it coming. I also wonder why if there were letters every year, why didn't we get to read all of them? I may write a really detailed letter to a good friend, but wouldn't put that much detail into a letter that goes out to all of creation. It was a quick read, so I am not disappointed for having invested a lot of time, but I also feel glad that it was a Kindle sale for $1.99.
A review of mother followed by daughter's Christmas letters from the past. The letters tell a brief story of their lives. Quick kind of fun read. Even tho the letters tried to dwell on the positive aspects of each year gone by, the negative things are visible because of their absence.

I have a friend who keeps a binder with each Christmas letter she and her husband have written over the course of their marriage. It's a good way to keep a simple journal.
I'll never rank any book by Lee Smith lower than 4 stars. (Fair and Tender Ladies is my favorite.)

I don't know how much non-Southerners will like The Christmas Letters, but as a native North Carolinian, reading this book is like sitting on the porch with a tall glass of sweet tea and shooting the breeze with women I have known. Every character, every recipe, every story, and every turn of phrase is as familiar to me as my old college sweatshirt.
Kathleen Hagen
Christmas Letters, by Lee Smith, three different narrators, produced by Recorded Books, downloaded from

This is a short but heartwarming story of three generations of women, starting with Mary in 1942 during WW II, and ending sometime in the 1990’s. Here, three generations of women tell their stories in annual Christmas letters to the family. It’s short, but a good escape from heavier books.

I really, really liked this book. The format, the characters, the nostalgia- everything about it had me missing my family and my kitchen. However, it was MUCH too short. It would've earned 5-stars in my book if there had been a little more finishing of the edges at the end of the story. Such a shame. Although I am planning to purchase this as a Christmas gift for my husband's grandmother- she will love it!
The Christmas Letters follows three generations of women from 1944 through 1996 (when the book was published). It was a very quick read since each section is composed entirely of letters. It was also an interesting look at how each generation changed from the previous one, but the women still kept in touch with friends and family through an annual "christmas letter".
I enjoyed this novella so much that I read it in one night. At first I thought it was light reading, eventually I discovered a depth to the letters that made me go back a few times and re-read some of the letters. We have all received those "Brag sheet" Christmas letters and now I have to wonder how many hidden stories I have missed.
Lovely selection for a December bookclub, especially for one who writes a yearly Christmas letter. It started out with promise, but became predictable as it headed toward the present and fell into the format of nearly every second wave feminist novel. Fulfillment through self-awareness as the product of divorce.
This is one of my all-time favorite books. It's not about Christmas, but that's the time of year I generally re-read it each year. I know critics have complained about the epistolary format not working believably in this book, but you know what? A little willing suspension of disbelief never killed anyone.
What a sweet little Christmas book this is! I love reading letters . . . and enjoy each Christmas letter receive. So I enjoyed the format is the book particularly. The characters were so well developed , . . I truly enjoyed the personalities of each one. I only wish that there were a sequel!!!!
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Growing up in the Appalachian mountains of southwestern Virginia, nine-year-old Lee Smith was already writing--and selling, for a nickel apiece--stories about her neighbors in the coal boomtown of Grundy and the nearby isolated "hollers." Since 1968, she has published eleven novels, as well as three collections of short stories, and has received many writing awards.

The sense of place infusing her...more
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