From 17 pairs of matching pajamas to some Dirty Santa fun, the members of Little Big Town each have their own cherished holiday traditions, and though Christmas 2020 won’t be the same as previous years, Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook are looking forward to making new memories with their families.
For Schlapman it wouldn’t be Christmas without her entire clan donning matching pajamas. “We have very long standing tradition of wearing the same PJs,” she says. “I’m praying that we get to be together this Christmas, but there’s 16 or 17 of us that have on the exact same pajamas from Christmas Eve all the way usually until the next 24 hours.”
Schlapman admits it has been harder to continue the pajama tradition in recent years as the number of family members has increased with marriage and babies. “It was my mama’s idea, maybe 15 years ago she started doing it,” Schlapman says. “Back then she had to buy like six pair and now, because we have so many kids, she started thinking about it earlier and earlier. It’s always a secret. Sometimes she picks one of us girls in the family to kind of help her out, make sure she’s got all the sizes because it’s a lot to keep up with now.”
Somehow her mom always manages to find matching pajamas for their entire family. “We get together at my sister’s house and I’m just praying that we can all stay well. We’re going to get some [COVID] testing done and we can all be together,” she says. “On Christmas eve, we all gather in the living room and my mama passes out everybody’s box of pajamas. She’s wrapped them all beautifully with the pretty ribbon. We all sit there together and unwrap them and get the surprise of whatever this year’s PJs are. Everybody goes off and changes clothes and comes back and then my daddy reads the Christmas story from the Bible sitting right there in the recliner. Now that tradition we have had since I was a little tiny girl, even before the pajamas. I can remember sitting in our living room in front of the fireplace when it was just mama and daddy and my sister and me, even before my brother was born, we were reading that story on Christmas Eve. That is one of my heart’s greatest treasures.”
Fairchild, who is married to Westbrook, says due to COVID restrictions some things will be different this year. “We have one tradition at Jimi’s family which I doubt we’ll get to do it this year,” she says of their annual Dirty Santa gift exchange. “The Westbrook family is very large. There are just a ton of them. I counted to see how many presents were in the Dirty Santa pile [last year] and there were 60 presents.”
“We were on the floor of a gym,” Westbrook interjects with a laugh. “We had to rent a gym.”
“Because there were so many people,” Fairchild adds. “It does get funny. Usually we bring something really good from a gift bag that we didn’t want.”
Dirty Santa is a holiday party game also referred to as a white elephant gift exchange. It’s played when the first person selects a gift from the pile, opens it, and shows it to everyone. Then second person takes a turn and can choose to steal the first person’s gift (aka “Dirty Santa”) or pick from the pile. This continues with each person having the chance to steal or choose a wrapped gift.
There is one Christmas tradition that Sweet is happy to let go of this year. “My daughter is turning 13 on Dec 27th. I’m really glad I don’t have to do those damn Elf on the Shelfs anymore. I’m so over those guys,” he says with a laugh. “That’s my least favorite thing like, ‘Oh we forgot to do the Elf,’ and it’s like three in the morning so we raise up to go find it somewhere.”
Looking back on his own childhood was there ever a gift Sweet wanted that he just didn’t get? “When I was a kid, I always wanted a go-cart, and they are expensive,” he says. “I probably wouldn’t buy my kid a go-cart today and I get why I didn’t get one, but I really wanted a go-cart. I like to go fast.”
Westbrook also remembers setting his sights on speedy vehicles. “When I was a kid, you got out the Sears Christmas catalogue. That was the thing that had all the stuff you could get in there. I loved that as a kid, looking in there,” he shares. “I must have been small, but there were these little electric cars. There was a red Jaguar, red electric car that I was like, ‘Oh man! If I could have one of those!’ I never got one, but they were really expensive.”
Schlapman says the children in her family always enjoy leaving treats for Santa. “The kids will get Santa’s goody plate together, they make him a little plate of goodies and some eggnog and leave it out for him,” she says. “In recent years, they’ve also started feeding the reindeer, so that’s another thing we go through. Everybody goes outside and trickles the reindeer food all around and then we whisk the kiddos off to bed. We wake up together, everybody in the same house the next morning. The memories are just, there are so many of them and every year it just gets better. My sister always makes this incredible we call it ‘Christmas morning casserole,’ she’s always got that ready for us and then we make a big ole pot of grits, but first we open presents because the kids can’t wait. So we have to wait for breakfast until the presents are opened, but we line all the kiddos up on the staircase to make a picture together. Over the years as we look back, there was one and then two and then five and then seven, now there are eight grandkids and just seeing them on the stair steps every year is super special.”
This has obviously been a challenging year and Christmas is going to look different for a lot of people, but Schlapman says it can still be special. “There is a lot of pain. There’s a lot of darkness right now,” she says. “When even you are in the midst of a really dark time—and I have been there more than once—I think it’s important to find things to be grateful for, even the smallest tiniest thing. There is always something to be grateful for and if we can focus on what to be grateful for instead of the negative, it will lift you up.
“Sometimes we have to work really, really hard to pull ourselves out of a deep hole,” she continues, “but if you put in the effort and find things to be grateful for, slowly by slowly you can get your way out of the darkness. People might not be able to spend time with their family this year, and that’s true. I think it would be really cool if people are having to do things differently, find a new tradition, find something to make the day super duper special. Do something or surround yourself with things or food or just a game or whatever is different. Just do something to make that day just a tiny little bit different. You don’t have to spend any money. You don’t have to necessarily have people there to do it with you, but do something a little bit different so you can look back and say, ‘That was Christmas day and it was way different than it had ever been, but we did this and that made it really special.’”
Fairchild is looking ahead to 2021 and is hoping for a kinder America in the New Year. “I don’t make resolutions, but I feel like it’s so important because of what we’ve been through as a country that we just make the intention, set the intention that we are going to be kinder to each other, and even if we disagree, we’re going to support and cheer people on, wish the best for people, hope for the best for people, be good neighbors,” Fairchild says. “We have to get back to those core values no matter what side of the coin you are on politically. It doesn’t matter. That is something we can all agree on. As a society, as a community, how can we make 2021 the year of kindness and hopefulness and wishing more for each other instead of being so critical?”
Fairchild has definite thoughts on one thing she would like to see disappear in 2021. “I want to get rid of the cancel culture thing,” she says. “I don’t know whoever is in charge of that. Can we cancel the cancel culture?”
Fairchild was recently encouraged to see Morgan Wallen on Saturday Night Live after his performance had been postponed because he had violated COVID-19 safety protocols. “To know that SNL extended that invitation a second time, I was like that’s awesome because it could have easily gone the other way,” she says. “I was so happy for him and happy that they set that example of, ‘We’re not cutting you out. We’re actually inviting you back.’ I hope we see more of that kind of stuff.”