First released in 1973, this C&W holiday evergreen has not only held up well but also gained stature with time. The Hag's aching, mellifluous baritone is in as fine a form as it was at any point in his long, prolific career, and his grumpy, blue-collar heart betrays the soft and sentimental core he's battled to hide for years.
The showpiece, of course, is Haggard's towering, belt-tightening anthem, "If We Make It Through December;" a song that marries familial dedication, Woody Guthrie-esque socio-political relevance, a sublime arrangement, and a crackerjack melody for a rare Christmas song of year-round usefulness. Merle's remaining four originals cite Santa, popcorn, puppy dogs, a missing daddy, and a card from grandma with such unflinching sincerity that only a Grinch could doubt him. The five standards are all first-rate, but Haggard's "Silver Bells" is positively definitive. At just over 25 minutes, A CHRISTMAS PRESENT is a bit brief but perfect from front to back.