A Christmas to Remember

At the End of a Difficult Year, Amy Grant Still Feels the Holiday Spirit

“Well, if you’re going to be in the public eye, you’ve got to be willing to take the heat,” laughs Amy Grant. In the middle of her third annual Christmas tour and in support of her new seasonal release, A Christmas to Remember, Grant had played the night before in her hometown of Nashville to a near-capacity audience. At one point in the show she wore a green velvet dress with a train, and she did not expect the good-natured ribbing she took the next day from her friends and family.

“It was so funny,” she says. “I got so many calls saying ‘OK, nix the second outfit!’ One of my nieces gave me some heavy criticism, and my sister was so mortified. They were all so brutally honest, I just laughed! I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

While the green dress might be gone from the show, Grant is thoroughly enjoying taking Christmas music around the country. She is accompanied by the Nashville Symphony, pop/gospel crooner Michael W. Smith, female contemporary Christian quartet Point of Grace and The Katinas, a family gospel act. A lively show with a mix of contemporary and traditional holiday music, the Christmas show gives Amy and her friends a welcome opportunity to share the season with the public.

“People want something special to do during the holiday season,” she notes. “I think when you develop a reputation for delivering a good show, then your reputation does precede you. We all think, ‘let’s have a beautiful performance and give people an evening to remember.’ All of us on stage work hard to say, ‘How can we put together an evening that every one of us would stand in line to buy a ticket to see?’ Because anything short of that is a waste of everybody’s time.”

One of the strengths of the show is the ease with which Amy interacts with her audience and co-stars. Whether laughing with Point of Grace, sharing an impromptu waltz with Smith or leading the audience in Christmas carols, it is very apparent that Grant enjoys herself. It’s not surprising that A Christmas to Remember is her third holiday recording. 1983′s A Christmas Album and 1992′s Home for Christmas featured the same kind of orchestrated classic and new material as does the new album. Some of the highlights on A Christmas to Remember include the title track, “Christmas Can’t Be Very Far Away” and a beautiful treatment of “Silent Night.” The record is a reflection of her love of Christmas music, and even she is a little surprised she’s now offered three holiday releases.

“I just love Christmas music,”she says. “My all-time favorite is Nat ‘King’ Cole, and backstage before I go on I’ll put on Ella Fitzgerald. I have an embarrassingly large Christmas album collection.

“When I recorded my first Christmas album in ’83, I was not thinking, ‘Hey, this is the first of three,’” she continues. “In fact, if it hadn’t been me, and I just heard about this artist who recorded three Christmas records, I would have been like, ‘What’s up with that?’ It comes from a natural love of the holiday season, not just painting a perfect picture because it’s not perfect for anybody. I think I have a really honest, melancholy side that understands that the holiday season can be a difficult time for some people. I love celebrating faith and family, and mine is not perfect, but we laugh about putting the ‘fun back in function.’”

She admits that last year at this time was very difficult for her. She and singer/songwriter Gary Chapman, former host of TNN’s Prime Time Country, were separated last December, and the divorce that ended their 16-1/2 year marriage was final in June. Despite the hard times she’s faced, Grant remains focused on her three children and rebuilding her life.

“I don’t think I knew what the emotional price of choosing to go through a divorce would be; I didn’t understand the price I would pay personally. I felt like the sense of relief for everybody involved would be so welcome that everything would be OK. I don’t know that I would have done anything differently, I just didn’t fully realize the scope of it. I think letting go of history, even if it’s the most merciful thing to do after a certain point, is very hard. It takes a long time for healing to come, and I’m still learning every day. But, I am so grateful for a real feeling of healing. This is not propped up, this is not duct-taped together. It’s come at a really high price, but nobody’s having to put on a brave face anymore. There are some things about starting over that are a lot harder than I thought, but my feet are on solid ground, and it’s one step at a time.”

The past year has been a tough ride for Grant, but as the holidays draw near, she is ready to begin her life anew. Recognizing the importance of family and friends at this time — (“I’m a nester,” she says. “I love preserving history and tradition.”) — she shares with her audiences around the country personal reminiscences of Christmas and urges her listeners to remember their own special moments.

“The year Sarah (her youngest child) was born, the fall of ’92, Christmas Eve found my family all together, sitting around and singing,” she recalls. “My grandmother was there, and at age 82 she was a woman who still cared if her eyeliner was on straight! She was holding Sarah that night, and we’d sung enough songs, and it was time for the children to go to bed. Nanny said, ‘Oh, can’t we do just one more song?’ She wanted to do ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’ and I promised her that we would do that one the next time we were together.

“Unexpectedly, she passed away three days later. My three sisters and I were standing outside the hospital in the freezing cold, crying and laughing, and my oldest sister said, ‘Well, you know what song we’re going to have to sing first.’ We all operate from the hopeful assumption that things don’t change, but they do. If you live enough and see enough things change, it really makes you see the importance of honoring the moment.”