This holiday season will be different for Sarah Darling, to put it mildly. She'll be celebrating her first Christmas with husband James Muriel, but she'll also be celebrating her first Christmas without her grandfather -- a man she calls the "rock" of the family.

He died just days after Darling announced she'd married Muriel.

"I think Christmas will be sad," Darling tells Taste of Country. "But I think it will be wonderful too, because our family is starting to get closer together. And you know that's what he would want."

'River,' a Joni Mitchell song Darling covers on her just-released 'Have a Merry Little Christmas Darling' EP, is one that took on a new meaning after the passing of Grandpa Richard Eugene Dicks. It's the wildcard on the album, one tucked between three traditional holiday favorites. Darling says she heard it for the first time when she was 13, and the beauty of Mitchell's lyrics have never left her imagination. But now ...

"My mother and I were listening to 'River' for the first time after my Grandpa passed," she shares during a telephone call from a coffee shop in Nashville. "And I'm telling you, we just started crying because -- it's a sad, kind of love story -- but we kind of took it as something different. You know it's about kind of wanting to hold on to somebody that we had to let go of."

Other songs on 'Have a Merry Christmas Darling' are 'Silent Night' ("the most beautiful Christmas song ever written"), 'The Christmas Song' and 'I'll Be Home for Christmas.'

"To me those two are kind of your go-to Christmas songs, as far as I'm concerned," Darling admits.

Husband Muriel is British, which means he comes with a different set of Christmas traditions and charmingly old-fashioned values. Darling especially loves hearing about the food. Cooking is her other great talent -- in fact, she recently made a mouth-watering beef and Guinness pie, which she shared a picture of on Twitter. There's even a little heart molded into the top of the pie crust.

"I'm sick," she jokes. "I would make fun of myself."

The two were married in April, but didn't announce it until November. This caused a little confusion, since Darling shared that she was engaged in April. It was a spontaneous decision to get married, made mostly because they didn't want to wait any longer. Muriel and Darling had been flying back and forth between Nashville and England before he moved to the U.S. full time in February. They planned a big wedding for May 2014, and still intend on having that celebration.

"Originally I wasn't even going to tell people cause I wanted to keep it special for all my family that could come to our big wedding," she dishes, explaining the covert nature of the nuptials. "So I get lucky and I get two."

Despite one great loss and one great addition, Darling says she's looking forward to taking part in her family traditions this year. They'll make her sing, which she says can be embarrassing. She'll make the desserts -- pies, usually (pecan and pumpkin are the go-to) -- and they'll no doubt share stories about her grandfather. He was her hero, a man who lived his life by the Bible every single day.

Recently, Darling shared a picture of his Bible on Facebook. Every page is written on. "I don't know yet what's going to happen (to it)," she admits. "I haven't mentioned it, but I think secretly deep inside that's the thing I cherish the most."

If anyone in the Darling family needs a gift idea for the talented blonde who has baked all those pies over the years, that's a cue.

Look for 'Have a Merry Little Christmas Darling' on iTunes. The singer will debut the songs on December 13, during the Sarah Darling and Friends Acoustic Christmas concert at the Franking Theatre in Franklin, Tenn.

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