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I love Christmas!" declares Alan Jackson. "I always have. I love the mood, the music, the decorations, the spirit. People have a little different attitude at that time of year - they're more pleasant. Especially when you have children, that makes it more fun."
Oh, and there's one more thing Alan enjoys about the holidays.
"I like all that good food," he admits. "That's what we do at Christmas: eat and get fat!"
Although he claims with a chuckle to be "getting bigger around," it would take a whole lot of turkey to round out country's lanky superstar. But then, there's a lot more to the Jackson family Christmas than food. Alan, wife Denise and their three daughters - Mattie, 12; Ali, 9; and Dani, 5 - always enjoy a jam-packed holiday season.
"We're pretty typical, really," says the always-understated Alan. "We usually decorate the tree after Thanksgiving. We'll get together with our friends in Nashville and have Christmas parties - although we don't really go to any big social events. As it gets closer to Christmas, since all our family's back in Georgia, we'll go down there for a weekend or so."
As the big day approaches, however, the Jacksons high-tail it back to Nashville. "We always try to be in our own home for Christmas," he explains, "because the kids have gotta be there for Santa Claus." And for Alan, that's the real fun - seeing the season through the eyes of Mattie, Ali and Dani. "We just hang around and enjoy the time with the kids."
When the 25th finally arrives, the Jacksons roll out of bed and head for the tree to unwrap presents. As Alan has grown older and his family has expanded, he's learned that it truly is better to give than to receive.
"I love giving things, and now that definitely makes the best part of my Christmas," he admits. "You have to grow up a little bit to realize that. Besides, I've got more than I ever thought I'd have, so there's nothing people could buy me anyway."
After the presents have all been opened, it's time for the Jackson five to hit the kitchen for some hearty holiday eatin'. "We have a big Christmas dinner that's really just like Thanksgiving dinner - just a few weeks later," Alan grins.
While the festivities continue, Alan might put on some favorite Christmas music, perhaps a few of the lush traditional songs he grew up loving by singers like Bing Crosby, Nat "King" Cole and Gene Autry.
Meanwhile, families across the country will be cuing up Alan's own new seasonal album, Let It Be Christmas. The idea for this new holiday effort has been kicking around for years - and it began with Alan's mother, Ruth.
"I made a Christmas album back in the early '90s called Honky Tonk Christmas," he recalls. It was a collection of mostly newly penned songs, without any old holiday chestnuts. "I always loved that album." But he had a sneaking suspicion his mom didn't agree.
"She always said she liked it, but I knew she didn't really care for it that much," he chuckles. "She always said, 'I want you to make a real Christmas album, with all the traditional songs.'"
Alan set about assembling a group of standards such as "Winter Wonderland" and "Jingle Bells," along with the newly written title cut. "It was tough to pick the songs," he says. "I could have done 20 of them. I just tried to pick the ones that my family and I liked to listen to or sing.
"They're songs that a lot of people hold as their favorites, some of the religious songs that I sang in church growing up, and some of the regular, fun songs that always go with Christmas."
In whittling down the list, Alan bounced ideas off his family - which, it turns out, is a standard practice for him. "I always go over my material with my wife, whatever I'm doing," he reports. "I try to get my family's feedback. I always like to hear what they have to say.
"That doesn't necessarily mean I'll go along with them!" he laughs. "But sometimes they'll be more honest with you than people outside. You know, it's hard to find people that are willing to tell you that you suck."
Certainly, that was not Alan's mom's reaction to Let It Be Christmas: "She was tickled to death," he assures. Maybe that's because it captures the spirit of those old-time Christmas albums the Jackson family has always enjoyed.
"You can put it on, get a glass of wine and sit beside the fire," he promises. "I just love the songs - they're beautiful. When I hear them, they make me think of Christmas, and it brings back memories of growing up."
Let It Be Christmas will have to tide Alan's fans over at least until sometime next year. That's when he plans to release his first greatest-hits album in seven years. "I'm way behind on my greatest hits," he jokes. The CD will feature several new tracks in addition to the many smashes Alan has enjoyed since 1995's Greatest Hits Collection.
After that, it'll be time to start work on a whole new CD, his first since Drive, released almost a year ago. It's a tall order to follow up an album that sold three million copies and garnered Alan a record-tying five awards at the CMAs last month. "I know some people are probably tired of me," he quips. "Anything, to me, is just icing on the cake."
So what will the next Alan Jackson album sound like? "I don't have a clue," he admits. "I never really sit down and think about what direction I'm heading in with my music. I just write some songs, find some others, and try to make an album."
For the moment, all Alan is thinking about is enjoying a warm, loving family Christmas - and that's enough for now. "I'm just happy as can be," he says, laughing the easy-rolling laugh of a contented man.
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