Country Music’s biggest stars share their family traditions and treasured holiday memories on “CMA Country Christmas,” which airs Thursday, Dec. 1 (9:00-11:00 PM/ET) on the ABC Television Network.
Hosted for the second year by Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland, the special includes performances from “American Idol” runner up Lauren Alaina, Amy Grant, Faith Hill, Little Big Town, Martina McBride, “American Idol” winner Scotty McCreery, Kellie Pickler, Rascal Flatts, Darius Rucker, Brian Setzer with special guest Brad Paisley, Sugarland, Keith Urban, and Vince Gill in a special performance with Miss Piggy.
A highlight of the special is the intimate fireside chats where the artists and their families share their personal traditions from favorite recipes, to least favorite gifts.
Lauren Alaina and her mother Kristy Suddeth chatted on the couch while Alaina talked about how the family home is decorated. “We go all out,” she said. “We’re serious about our Christmas decorations. When they don’t work, we are mad.” Alaina also talked about snooping for Christmas gifts before Christmas Day.
Vince Gill and wife Amy Grant talked about their favorite Christmas memories. Gill told a story about his sister mastering the art of opening Christmas gifts before Christmas Day – and re-sealing them. “She was good at acting surprised at what she got,” remarked Gill.
Grant told a story about her mother buying her gerbils one Christmas, only to have them found by the family cat before the big reveal. “We’re sitting around, all fuzzy feeling, then all of a sudden, I’m going, ‘What is that crunching sound under the tree?’ It was my big present – the gerbils.”
Faith Hill talked about the big box of peanuts she and her two older brothers received from their mother and father one Christmas. They had to dig through to find money. “I got so upset because she didn’t put any money in my box. I thought, “She gypped me!’” Faith also said her husband, Country star Tim McGraw, dressed up as Santa Claus one Christmas for a benefit show. “It was actually really good,” Hill said. She said the family tradition is to read The Night Before Christmas, to bake, and make reindeer food.
Jimi Westbrook of Little Big Town recalled how his siblings would all pile up on mattresses and blankets on the floor in the family’s “little bitty house.” “That is harmony. That is family. That is what Christmas is all about,” Westbrook said.
Martina McBride and her three daughters (Ava 6, Emma 13, and Delaney 16) chatted about their favorite Christmas recipe. “We have a weird salad we make,” McBride said, listing the ingredients as a jar of pimento cheese, a can of pineapple, half a bag of marshmallows, and a carton of Cool Whip, mixed together. “It’s so good!”
Kellie Pickler talked about one of her favorite holidays when she visited American troops in Iraq as part of a USO tour. She said the experience was “life-changing,” visiting with men and women who couldn’t be with their husbands, wives, and children on Christmas. “There are so many things we take for granted,” Pickler said. “We don’t realize it until it’s not there anymore – until that luxury, that freedom, is not there.”
Jay DeMarcus, of Rascal Flatts, sat with his wife Allison, and infant daughter Madeline (born Dec. 17, 2010), and talked about the new traditions being started in the DeMarcus home this year. “The greatest gift we got this year was this little, beautiful angel right here,” said DeMarcus, smiling and laughing along with his wife, while his daughter tugged on his shirt. “This is her first interview. As you can tell, she’s doing really well at it.”
Joe Don Rooney, of Rascal Flatts, talked about special holiday traditions at his home. “We kind of have a tradition now we’re starting. We kind of all have pajamas we wear – all matching.”
Rooney’s wife, Tiffany Fallon added, “Daddy only wears his for, like, 10 or 15 minutes.”
Rooney deadpanned, “When you’re dressed like a candy cane, and you’re a guy, it’s a little uncomfortable.”
Sugarland’s Kristian Bush recalled how as children, he and his brother slept as close to the Christmas tree as they could on Christmas Eve. “Santa left everything outside,” Bush said.
Nettles talked about the year she and her roommate decided to make candles for Christmas, but narrowly escaped disaster. “It’s quite dangerous actually,” Nettles said. “A lot went into those gifts, and I hope people still have those candles because we almost burned down the whole complex.”
A native Australian, Keith Urban explained how Christmas was always sunny and warm, which is much different from the wintry holiday he now celebrates in the United States. “My memories of Christmas growing up in the Southern hemisphere – it’s the middle of summer down there,” Urban said. “Christmas was always about going to the beach. And my fondest Christmas memory is about getting in the station wagon with my mom, dad, my brother, and me, and going to the beach for the day.”
Urban also talked about the best present he ever received. “Two Christmases ago, my lovely wife [Nicole Kidman] surprised the heck out of me with Waylon Jennings’ Telecaster that was being auctioned off at the beginning of December. Hands down – it’s the best gift I’ve ever had.”
Make “CMA Country Christmas” your new family tradition. The two-hour special is a production of the Country Music Association. Robert Deaton is the executive producer, Paul Miller is the director, and David Wild is the writer. The special is available in high definition and broadcast in 720 Progressive (720P), ABC’s selected HDTV format, with 5.1 channel surround sound. “CMA Country Christmas” has a PG-TV parental rating.