A Christmas Gift
(aka The Melodeon)

The Melodeon, Doubleday  ISBN  0-385-06163-3

*A Christmas Gift, St. Martin's Press  ISBN  0-312-92956-0

Click here to read the first pages of Glendon Swarthout’s family tale about a Christmas miracle, set on a farm in his home state of Michigan during the Great Depression. The Melodeon’s title was changed to a more marketable A Christmas Gift in a later edition.  Volume contains nice pen and ink illustrations by Richard Cuffari.  The Melodeon was retitled A Christmas to Remember in 1978’s CBS TV-Movie starring Jason Robards and Joanne Woodward. 

A Christmas GiftAmong other things, The Melodeon has the distinction of being the only best-selling American novel to ever appear under four separate titles, certainly not a record of distinction. The novella appeared under this first title from Doubleday in 1977. It made the New York Times best-seller list and was very well-reviewed and sold to television (see film listings). Doubleday made it that publishing house's Christmas "gift" book of 1977, sent to everyone the huge publisher did business with. It was a Reader's Digest Condensed Book as well. The producers of the television movie and the network quickly realized that a Christmas story needed "Christmas" in the title, though, so it was changed to A Christmas To Remember for the 1978 TV-Movie. 

Glendon and his screenwriter son, Miles, hated the radical updating done to this old-fashioned, rural-set story, however, and took their names off the TV-Movie's credits. The book was re-issued in 1992 by St. Martin's Press and by then Glendon had realized that The Melodeon was one of the worst titles he had ever come up with ("nobody could spell it or even knew what it was"), but he also didn't want anything to do with the TV abortion, so he retitled his classic little story, A Christmas Gift. Meanwhile his agent managed to sell a condensed version of this very same story to Good Housekeeping, for that magazine's double-sized December, 1992 holiday issue. The jolly editors, getting into the spirit of this name-changing, changed the magazine story's title to "Journey Into Christmas," thereby killing any possible tie-in sales with the newly reissued novella. Confused? You should be. 

But not a word of this great little Christmas tale's ever been changed, except in the awful TV-Movie version. You can look for this book online from resellers such as abebooks.com, alibris.com, or Barnes and Noble's used books. It's also there in a St. Martin's Press paperback entitled A Christmas Gift.

The season is Christmas, the place is a remote Michigan farm during the Great Depression, and the miracles are many and wondrous, from a city boy's initiation into the marvels of nature to a thrilling journey that leads to a strange encounter with an ancestor long dead. A Christmas Gift is a remembrance of the American past and of the love, sacrifice, and devotion that unite four generations of a remarkable family. On a stormy Christmas Eve, young James and his old grandfather decide to give the family's heirloom melodeon (a small pump organ) to their impoverished local church so that, on Christmas morning, the congregation can sing to the accompaniment of inspiring music. But how are they to haul the heavy instrument through the most violent blizzard of the year? How? With fierce determination and the dubious help of four rambunctious girls -- and the intervention of the mysterious Christmas "cavalryman" who will transform their lives. I challenge any reader to make it through this story's last poignant, memorable chapter without shedding a tear. No one has yet.

This classic holiday story should definitely be remade for television properly. The initial adaptation which closely follows the book's storyline, by Miles Hood Swarthout and approved by the original author, Glendon, is available from Hoodwinks Productions. Film remake rights available from the original producer, George Englund.


"A genuine Christmas story . . . Warm with human goodness and love."  Christian Science Monitor

"Builds the suspense to a lump-in-the-throat climax that will draw many a tear from tender-hearted readers. This kind of story is supposed to have become a victim of our materialist age, but see if you can read it without feeling a surge of sentiment in that closing church scene. It's a charming tale written without a false note and perfectly attuned to the Christmas spirit."  John Barkham Reviews

"Triggers memories, tugs at the heartstrings and makes you  live inside the minds and souls of the characters . . . An excellent novel, particularly for this time of year, and a novel that you will want to share with those you love, particularly if that love is deep."   Bob Shotwell, Arizona Republic

"There is both charm and a nostalgic ability to recapture times past in Swarthout's enchanting fictionalized memoir of a city boy's days on a farm . . .
An appealing Christmas book."  Publisher's Weekly

"A story spun of the simple and homely old human struggles and virtues that will startle the reader like an unexpected dawn . . . Here is a book which, while its theme and its attractive illustrations make it a suitable Christmas gift, will provide interesting reading for any time of the year."  Stanton A. Coblentz, the Los Angeles Times

"A tender, haunting tribute to a time gone by. A book to be listened to, in laughter and in tears, and to be treasured . . . Isn't it right that once in a while a book like this should come along?"   James E. Alexander, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Glendon Swarthout has written a touching tale for the entire family. It's short and simply written, and its message is clear: Christmas is love and miracles, though small, do happen."  Pam Brown, Macon, Georgia Telegraph and News

"All the virtues we associate with Christmas are present -- love, faith, and miracles. It is a gentle tale that could bring tears to the eyes of a couple of generations who will recall life in that long ago, far-away time."  Chattanooga, Tennessee Times

"The Melodeon is a book that should be a Christmas classic in the tradition of Clement C. Moore. It's a beautiful story of love, and I could hardly read the last two chapters for pausing to mop my streaming eyes. Swarthout's story of small miracles is guaranteed to touch the heart of even the coldest Scrooge."  Delores Ballard, Jackson, Tennessee Sun

"What an ideal Christmas book this is! It's all about miracles . . . The rest of the charming, beautifully illustrated little book is another Christmas miracle, one the entire community shared."   Margaret E. Wiggins, Ft. Wayne, Indiana News-Sentinel

"True lessons of giving and sharing are conveyed in the sensitive story about the donation of the family heirloom, a melodeon, achieved through a small miracle that reunited a family.  Swarthout's moving story succeeds in its simplicity and its setting in an earlier time, full of hope."  The Booklist, American Library Association

"This is the sort of story that makes you feel good all over, compounded of love and family and unabashed acceptance of the Christmas miracle. It is told by novelist Glendon Swarthout as an autobiographical vignette, but whether you believe it or not, it's a little treasure . . . Short and perfect, The Melodeon is the work of a man who can also take credit for The Shootist and The Tin Lizzie Troop and other outstanding fiction."  Anniston, Alabama Star

"It is the refreshing candor and humor of author Glendon Swarthout that elevates The Melodeon above the standard children's story or the paternalistic vanity tale . . . It is the kind of Christmas tale that even the coldest and oldest of cynics wouldn't mind reading to a child. There's a balanced reward for both."  Bill Jones, Phoenix, Arizona Gazette

"The story is told concisely but with evident delight in the magic of words: 'It was a dashing winter day, colder than a dogcatcher's heart' . . . The Melodeon, illustrated with pleasing line drawings by Richard Cuffari, is a short but expertly crafted addition to Mr. Swarthout's output…It may well become one of those novels to which I return whenever I need cheering up."  Malcolm Pain, Sheffield, England Morning Telegraph