Eric Church, Kellie Pickler, Chris Young + More: The Best Christmas Gift I’ve Given
Santa Claus isn't the only one in the gift giving mood come Christmas. Taste of Country asked some of today's top country stars about the best gifts they've given to that special someone in their life during the holiday season. From diamonds and Snuggies to an appendix and the gift of helping those in need, we heard it all!
New dad Eric Church recalls a Christmas many years ago when he was just a kid himself, which was a year that helped him realize the true meaning of the holiday. "We grew up in a small town, and we had one guy who knew everybody in town, but he was the homeless guy," Church tells Taste of Country. "We went one year and did a big fruit basket, got some clothes, and we found him one Christmas Eve when he was knocking around the park. We drove around town until we were able to find him, and we gave him the present. It was just a really cool thing. I was young -- probably 6 or 7-years-old -- but that has always really stuck with me just to go out there and do that and really bring out the true spirit of Christmas."
Kellie Pickler echoes Church's response. "I think the greatest thing that you can give -- and I know this might sound cliche -- but the greatest thing you can give is your time somewhere," she says. "Helping people who might not have a Christmas. So we'll raid the house and give clothes away. We donate things to shelters all the time, but especially around Christmas. It's always good to help give people who are less fortunate a better Christmas than they would have had had you not come along. I enjoy giving things and not telling ... I've always thought it was really neat to just give gifts to people and they don't know where it came from. You just know that they needed it, and you don't need any recognition or need anything for it. You just need to know that they have what they need. That's so great. I really do believe God honors that. There are so many people who will not do things like that unless they are going to get their picture taken and a pat on the back for it. So, I don't like to give and tell [laughs]."
For Chris Young, this year could be the year of the best Christmas present given to one of his family members. "I always go all out every year on one family member," says Young. "I've just kind of done that for the past couple of years. I've got some really good ideas for this year's. Just in case my family reads this, I don't want to say what it is ... this year will be the best gift I have given!"
The most important gift to give or receive when it comes to Josh Thompson is just the time spent with the ones he loves. "I love giving people things and all that, but really what matters most to me is getting home and spending some time with my mom and sister and my nieces and stuff like that," Thompson says. "That’s all I care about."
David Nail's gift that keeps giving was presented to his wife, Catherine, the year they got engaged. "I proposed to her I think the week before Thanksgiving," Nail recalls. "Right after she screamed and we had our little moment, I informed her that 'this [ring] is your Christmas present for the next two years.' I can remember that whole next year after we were married, she was like, 'Is this really my Christmas present this year, too?' I was like, 'Yup [laughs]! And it may be your birthday [present], too, if I don’t get it paid off!'"
Husband and wife duo Thompson Square enjoy the Christmas holiday because it means trying to outdo the other on getting the best gift. "Any time that Shawna ever wants to venture into something like a hobby, I have a bad habit of going all the way in," Keifer Thompson explains. "She wanted to dabble in photography, and she had this little crappy camera. I thought she was really good at it, so I went and spent God knows how much money -- well, I know how much money, and it was a lot -- on the best camera and everything else. It was funny because we said we were only going to spend $100 on each other, and then I gave her this crazy amount of stuff. I always like do that … play a trick on her. But I think that’s one of the nicest gifts I’ve given."
Shawna's favorite gift to Keifer holds sentimental value for the both of them. "Our manager took a photo of Keifer and I at the Ryman when we had our debut at the Opry," she says. "I had it framed really nice and had it wrapped, and I gave it to him for Christmas."
Rodney Atkins enjoys giving gifts that will throw one off, like the year he bought a Snuggie for his wife, Tammy. "I was watching TV one night a couple of years ago, and a commercial for Snuggies came on ... when Snuggies took over the world!" Atkins says with a grin. "I told Tammy, 'There you go! I figured it out. That's what I'm getting you!' She said, 'You better not get me a Snuggie!' So that year, I did get her a Snuggie, but I opened the package first and put diamond earrings in the pocket. So she opened it up, and I made her put it on, and then she reached in the pocket and found them."
One of the best gifts Josh Kelley bought his wife, actress Katherine Heigl, for Christmas one year also happened to be jewelry, which was a big hit in his house. "My wife is really into vintage jewelry," he says. "I bought her this ring that she honestly wears every week. That’s been one of my favorite gifts I’ve given her."
Colt Ford enjoys buying gifts year round, but they are extra special come Christmas. "I like giving gifts," he says. "That’s kind of who I am. I love doing that kind of stuff, especially when it comes to [my] wife. It’s just something that I really like to do, and I don’t have any reason. I don’t know if there is one particular thing I've bought for her that has been more cool than anything else."
Kevin Fowler's fondest gift giving moment came a couple of years back when he and his sister turned the tables to surprise their parents with a very special gift they didn't see coming. "We sent my parents on a cruise ship all the way through Alaska and the Northwest," says Fowler. "We grew up pretty poor and didn't have any money. They never went anywhere. They were just homebodies in Texas, never went anywhere or did anything. It was really cool to send them to see some of the world because they spent most of their lives worrying about us all the time ... how are these kids going to eat? How are we going to put them through school? So that was really cool sending them to do something that they ever dreamed of when they got married."
Brantley Gilbert also favors the gifts he has given to his mother who he often refers to as his "angel." "My mother loves flowers," he notes. "I got her literally got her a truckload of flowers one Christmas. It literally lit her day up. But probably the best gift I’ve given was to my mom was when I wrote her a letter and told her how much I loved her. She told me that was the best gift she’d ever received."
Special presents for Mom was a common topic when we asked newcomer Frankie Ballard about his favorite gift that he's given. "When I was little, the guy across the street from us had this wood shop in his basement," remembers Ballard. "My mom had this old barn window frame in our garage that she had. I don’t even know where she got it, but it was really old -- like from the 1800s. It was just this rotted out old window frame. She said she always wanted to make a mirror out of it someday. I took it over to this guy across the street, and secretly we sanded it down and refinished it and made it into a mirror. I gave it to her one year for Christmas. I think that was pretty cool. She liked that a lot!"
LoCash Cowboys' Chris Lucas loves the gift of technology so much that he purchased his parents a Mac computer in recent years, while his duo partner, Preston Brust, splurged on buying his father a Honda Rancher 4-Wheeler.
"That was something my dad always wanted," Brust says with a smile. "So when things started to turn the corner and go a little better [with the duo], I bought him one so he could take it hunting. I had it parked around the corner from the house, and I called my little brother so he could tell our dad that something was wrong with my car so he would go outside. It was real cold outside, but being a nice guy, he put his shoes on and went out anyway. I fired it up, and I came around the corner. I wanted it to be going really fast and be really loud when I came into view, but I was on the pavement. When I turned the corner, I had it going a little too fast because it went on two wheels. I was scared to death! Fortunately, I got it back down to all four by the time I got to my dad. In the moment, I probably looked like an X-Game champion [laughs]! Somehow I didn't wreck. When I got to my dad, he was like, 'Preston, what are you doing? You're so crazy!' I happily got off and just said, 'Merry Christmas, Dad!' It took him a minute to register. He was like, 'How did you afford this?' I told him, 'Well if things don't keep going the right way for us, this may be your Christmas present for the next six years!' [laughs]. He hopped on and we didn't see him again for over an hour!"
While Sunny Sweeney loves the time spent with family as well, she says the gift giving is more of a chore than anything else. "I’m a pretty cheap present giver, and I’m pretty boring," she says with a laugh. "I usually just give gift cards because I hate Christmas shopping. I don’t know who I’ve given an expensive gift card to, but I would bet that that’s the best present that I’ve ever given ... a $100 gift card instead of a $50 gift card [laughs]! I went all out on that one! I hate Christmas shopping, I wouldn’t mind it if I could do it in July, but I never remember until the week before Christmas."
Now that Gloriana have found some success, the trio's Tom Gossin is thrilled to have a budget to use for gift giving. "Ever since I've joined this band, I was always broke," he says. "Now there's budgets for wardrobe. So basically what I started doing for my whole family for birthdays or Christmas was I'd play stylist for them ... I'd go buy them a bunch of clothes and show up with a whole new wardrobe for them. People are very excited when you do that. The resources are awesome these days because I know where to shop and I travel a lot. This past year I showed up with totally new wardrobes for my older brother and dad. They loved it!"
Newcomer Katie Armiger also uses the perks of traveling and her fashion sense when it comes to picking out Christmas gifts for her family and friends. "I went to New York [one year], and I got to do interviews there. I always try to stop in Chinatown to check out all the knock-off purses and stuff. My little sisters are really into Juicy Couture, so I went out and got so many of these Juicy Couture things. They look so real and you can get them for dirt cheap. So I gave my sisters all this random Juicy Couture jewelry. They knew it wasn't real, but still they freaked out. I've never seen two girls so happy in all my life [laughs]!"
Danelle Leverett of the JaneDear Girls recalls one Christmas in particular that she gave items made with her own two hands. "One year I made aprons for all the women in the family," she says. "I got into a sewing kick when I was in the sixth or seventh grade when we had to do it. So I made every mamaw, every aunt and my mom, all aprons. I chose different fabrics and patched them up. So that’s kind of cool. It wasn’t like big, but it was thoughtful."
Leverett's partner-in-crime, Susie Brown, has a best memory of giving a gift that also came in her younger years. "I remember being young and scraping some pennies together," she says with a smile. "I bought my brother this little frog that had an open mouth and you put a sponge in it. I was like in the first grade [laughs]. I was so proud of it. Then I remember buying my mom some really nice shoes, and she really appreciated them. It’s cool when you don’t have very much money and you figure out something to get them that’s special to them. I think that means the most, or if you handmake something."
While Jerrod Niemann claims he is not the best gift-giver, his dad would beg to differ. "I gave my dad a Jeep once," says Niemann. "When we were kids, he used to pretend he was Elvis-Travolta-P.I., so when I got his Jeep made, I had them engrave 'Elvis-Travolta-P.I.' across the dashboard. He hadn't said that since we were kids so he was probably like, 'How did her remember that?' I'm sure he drives around with the top down thinking he is Elvis-Travolta-P.I. [laughs]!"
Lee Brice's favorite Christmas present that he has given didn't cost him a dime, but the value will remain priceless for eternity. "I grew up singing my whole life, but for some reason, I never did bring my guitar home and play for my extended family -- my grandparents and stuff," he says. "I don’t know why. A few years ago, I went home and said I need to play for the family this year … I’m on the road, I got singles on the radio … I think it will be fun. I pulled the guitar out, and my granddaddy was sitting there. He was getting old and getting down to the end, really. He was a proud, strong man. So me and my brother played some songs, and when I looked up, my granddaddy was so proud. He was crying, and I had never seen that happen. I was thinking to myself, I’m so glad I did that. Then, a couple of months later, he died. I was so happy that I had done that. I guess that would be a present to him."
Brett Eldredge scored himself major points when he bought his brother John Mayer tickets for Christmas one year, but it was a different "giving" around the holiday time that was his absolute favorite. "I gave my appendix to the Northwestern Hospital in Chicago," he says with a laugh. "I was on a radio tour, and I had the worst stomach ache ever. The night before I was onstage in Decator, Ill. and had a terrible stomach ache. I made it through the whole show, and the next morning I caught a cab to the walk-in clinic. They did a CAT scan and told me I had appendicitis, so I had to catch a cab to the emergency room in downtown Chicago and got my appendix removed. So I gave them my appendix for Christmas!"
With his schedule getting busier and busier with each passing year, Billy Currington enjoys the time spent at home, which his family considers the best gift of all. "I've never been the one who goes out and buy presents," he explains. "I don't know why. I never got in with that. I always thought that just hanging out was best."
Christian Kane says he likes "to be Santa Claus" each year, and he gets more satisfaction out of giving than receiving. "I always go home, and my mom and dad always get so mad at me because I like to shower them with stuff because they’ve earned it. My parents live in a place that has three levels. So one year for Christmas I bought them three top-of-the-line vacuum cleaners, one for each floor. My mom was pretty happy about that!"
Matt and Ryan Fleener of the Dirt Drifters share many favorite Christmas memories and gifts received growing up, which has helped make sure their own kids have great memories as well. "The best gift I've given was probably this last Christmas because my son is finally old enough to actually get it," says Matt Fleener. "It wasn't any gift in particular, but it's just so cool to be in your dad's shoes and get to walk through Toys 'R' Us and spend a little money on your kids. It's a cool feeling. We get to be Santa Claus. I'll take it any day over getting gifts."
"The best gift ever that I've given someone was this last Christmas," shares the Dirt Drifters' drummer Nick Diamond. "I bought my son his first drum set. He just went berserk! It was the coolest thing ever. I'm hoping that maybe he'll follow in my footsteps."
Two years ago, Dirt Drifter Jeremy Little bought his nephew "the winning gift" in the family. "I did the whole 'piss my sister off and buy my nephew a BB gun' thing," he says with a laugh. "That was pretty good. She's still not very happy about that one."
The Dirt Drifters' guitarist, Jeff Middleton, remembers one time that his Christmas present purchases came back to haunt him years later. "I hadn't saved any money up for Christmas presents one year, so I joined one of those CD clubs for a penny. I was probably 9-years-old or something. I joined the record club and got like 13 records for free ... but then you're a member for like four years. You have to buy a CD every month. So everyone got CDs in my family, but I didn’t realize if they sent you Meatloaf’s ‘Bat Out of Hell’ album that you had to send it back or you’d get billed. At one point, I think three years later, I had about $380 in back charges from CDs they sent to fulfill my membership [laughs] ... but Christmas was a huge success that year!"