PRESENTS PAST

The stars recall their best Christmas gifts ever

Everyone enjoys tearing into those brightly wrapped presents on Christmas morning to find out what's inside. But some gifts are unforgettable - and can even have a lifelong impact.

Vince Gill's most treasured present put him on the musical path. "I think my best Christmas was when I was 10, and my parents got me my first serious electric guitar and amp," remembers Vince. "That Christmas, I was rocking the entire Gill household!"

Brad Paisley's household also got a little noisier one Christmas day. "When I was 8, my grandfather wrapped up his old guitar and gave it to me," says Brad. "And if that didn't change my life, I don't know what did!"

Teen phenomenon Billy Gilman also found a guitar under the tree a few years ago. "What was funny about it," chuckles Billy, "is that it was taller than me!"

Heidi Newfield of Trick Pony's favorite gift wasn't an instrument, but it did make music. "It was a nice, new stereo from my grandfather in 1985," she says. "I listened to it all the time!"

Cyndi Thomson had to work for her musical entertainment - her parents sent her on a Christmas-day scavenger hunt through the house to find her new CD player. "It's really hard to surprise me, 'cause I always figure everything out," she explains. "But they got me good that year. They hid it in the attic!"

Little 7-year-old Ronnie Dunn also got a Christmas surprise - a brand-new baby blue girls' bicycle! Ronnie's dad accidentally bought the wrong bike, a mix-up that wasn't discovered until Christmas Eve.

"He walked in," recalls Ronnie, "and said, 'Santa Claus is out there in the garage, but the elves made a mistake and stuck a girls' bike in the sleigh. It'll probably take 'em a week or so to get the right one, or you can have this one.' We lived out in the country, and there was no one around except one neighbor, a real cute girl in the second grade. So I took the bike and got the girl!"

Jessica Andrews also found a bike under the tree - one with a little more power. "One year my sister and I got up and found two motorcycles sitting there waiting for us!" she says. "It was amazing!"

Alan Jackson also got a surprise with some horsepower behind it. "The best Christmas gift I can remember was the go-cart I got when I was about 11," he says. "But it threw a rod on Christmas morning, before I'd ever even taken it out for a real spin! Daddy spent hours putting another engine together for it. You don't find too many daddies who could - or would - do something like that."

A present doesn't have to be big or powerful to be special - just ask Amanda Wilkinson. "My mom and dad got me a locket around the time I turned 16," she says. "It's platinum-colored, so I can still wear it with anything!"

Jamie O'Neal's most cherished present was also jewelry - of a different sort. "My favorite Christmas gift was getting my engagement ring two years ago," she says. "I was shocked, but I loved it!"

Jennifer Kinley got a husband for Christmas when she rekindled her romance with then-boyfriend Adam Hughes two years ago. "We hadn't seen each other for a while," she recounts, "then we met up again that December and realized right then and there what meant the most to us in life: each other. We got engaged that New Year's Eve."

Mark Wills' best Christmas present was also a life-changer. "My most memorable gift was one I received from my wife: a home pregnancy test!" he laughs. "It's the gift that just keeps on giving!"

And sometimes the best gift need only be comforting words, as Bill Anderson learned during Christmas 1969. He was going through a divorce, and feeling guilty that his two young daughters were being shuttled between his house and that of his estranged wife.

"It was probably the worst Christmas I'd ever spent, up until that moment," he recalls. "On Christmas Eve, I was tucking the girls in and one of my daughters looked up at me and said, 'Dad, we're so lucky.'

"I said, 'What do you mean, honey?' She said, 'Because we have two houses where we're loved.' That was the greatest Christmas gift anybody could have given!"

- Lorie Hollabaugh

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