A country Christmas

A country Christmas – Nashville

John McColliuster

Only in Music City do celebrities open their homes to folks who stop by and say “howdy.”

The spirit of a down-home Christmas is alive and well in Nashville, Tennessee.

Singers, dancers, instrumentalists, and artists blend their talents to create a “Country Christmas” in this Mecca for lovers of country and western music. Even for those who don’t know the difference between Johnny Cash and Luciano Pavarotti, Nashville offers much excitement. That’s especially true at Christmas, when more than 75,000 visitors from across the nation and around the world set aside their briefcases, forget the problems of the moment, and head for “Music City USA” for one purpose – to usher in the most festive of holidays.

Sounds of the season from peeling church bells and strolling musicians echo along Nashville’s famed “Music Row.” Hotels, restaurants, museums, and other popular tourist attractions attempt to outdo one another with enchanting displays. Splashes of red and green and gold, along with the sweet aroma of hot spiced tea, remind visitors that Christmas is a festival meant to be celebrated with all the senses.

Capturing this theme is the Opryland Hotel – the flagship of Nashville’s hotels – transformed into a winter wonderland each December. Well over one million sparkling lights fill magnolia and pine trees lining the driveways to the building, which covers more than 30 acres. Inside the 1,891-room hotel – a blend of Colonial Williamsburg and Southern Plantation architectures – a two-acre, glass-covered conservatory graces the center of the hotel, where colorful tropical plants, thousands of poinsettias, and brightly lit waterfalls trumpet the celebration of of Christmas.

Local choirs take turns leading visitors in singing familiar carols. In the Cascades area, Lloyd Lindroth, a hotel resident harpist, delights audiences each night as he accompanies the laser-enhanced “Dancing Waters.”

Nashville has more professional musicians per capita than any other city. This is most apparent in the hotel’s 30,000-square-foot Presidential Ballroom, where a cast of 14 singers-dancers and a full orchestra nightly perform a Christmas spectacular, featuring melodies ranging from the traditional “Deck the Halls” to the new, but popular, “A Tender Tennessee Christmas.”

Adults certainly appreciate the festive celebration, but children enjoy special rewards reserved for those whose imaginations are not limited to reason of logic. The dancing eyes of spellbound youngsters reflect wonder and excitement as they listen to tales of Christmases “once upon a time” as recalled by popular country entertainers, including cousin Minnie Pearl and Riders in the Sky.

“When we began our celebration seven years ago, we never dreamed how popular it would become,” hotel General Manager Jack Vaughn says. The early part of the festival sells out quickly, but lucky latecomers can pick up last-minute cancellations. “That’s a far cry from the days when rooms went begging, as business travel virtually died for the holidays,” Vaughn says.

A few miles east, visitors take a step back in time at the Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson. The nationally famous plantation, with more than 1,000 acres of gently rolling farmland, was a peaceful retreat for our seventh president when he retired after his second term in office in 1837.

In keeping with the spirit of the early 19th century, when America’s Christmas celebration was subdued by today’s standards, the Hermitage displays no flashing lights or cardboard figures. Instead, it is decorated with more subtle displays: an occasional candle in the window or a garland of evergreen that lines the winding staircase just inside the main entrance to the mansion.

Each night, along the Cumberland River, you’ll hear the piercing whistle of The General Jackson – a 300-foot-long, four-deck paddle wheel showboat – piloted by Captain Edgar Allan Poe (yes, that’s his real name), Following a holiday-themed dinner on the evening cruise, up to 560 visitors can enjoy a special 45-minute production, “Christmas Stories,” in the showboat’s Victorian Theater.

On the southwest side of town, the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens, once the private estate of the Leslie Cheek family, features a mixture of animated figures and live greenery that particularly delights children. A favorite of the adults is the potpourri of Christmas trees decorated with ornaments representative of various nations.

One special Christmas tree in Nashville that invites “oohs” and “ahhs” from country music fans sits in the entrance of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Such household names as Glen Campbell, Brenda Lee, and Emmylou Harris have donated some of their favorite ornaments to hang from its branches. Perhaps the most touching display is a large wooden rocking horse that rests under the tree. it was made by Tennessee prison inmates for “Shooter” – son of the singer Waylon Jennings.

In nearby Hendersonville, the country-western singer Conway Twitty rolls out the welcome mat for visitors to “A Christmas at Twitty City.” It’s a favorite attraction for children, who delight in seeing Santa’s workshop or in wandering through the petting zoo.

Tom T. Hall and his wife, “Miss Dixie,” also get caught up in the spirit; they open their home during the first week in December to tourists who just want to stop by to say howdy.

The homey celebration of Christmas in Nashville offers a refreshing alternative to the tinsel decorations, plastic displays, and canned music chosen by other cities, It’s a family-oriented tradition that offers a memorable opportunity to share in the best this holy season has to offer.

Decking the

Opryland Halls

Preparing Nashville for Christmas requires an investment of time and money by many tourist attractions. At the Opryland Hotel, for instance, the holiday decorating shopping list includes:

* more than 1.4 million

Christmas lights * 4.5 miles of evergreen garland * 3.2 miles of red velvet ribbon * 100 Christmas wreaths * 9,000 pieces of wire * 15,300 tree ornaments * 42 Christmas trees * 15,500 poinsettias * 1.5 miles each of red and white

outdoor plastic ribbon * 396 large fiberglass snowflakes

COPYRIGHT 1990 Saturday Evening Post Society

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group