Tony, Emmy, and Grammy winner Kristin Chenoweth has been captivating audiences with her incomparable voice and comedic flair for more than 20 years: on Broadway in “Wicked” and “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”; on TV in “Pushing Daisies” and “The West Wing”; through albums such as “For the Girls” and “As I Am”; and on stages around the world. But all her work stopped when the pandemic hit, which was especially difficult for an extrovert who loves performing as much as Kristin does. She even believes that making music is “one of God’s purposes for my life.”
So earlier this year, Kristin’s mind turned to her favorite time of year, Christmas, even though it was only springtime. And in May 2021, the singer/actress headed to Nashville to record music that would reflect both the joy of the holiday season, as well as more reflective songs inspired by the hardships that she – and so many others – have faced. The result is the fun, heartfelt album “Happiness is…Christmas,” and we discussed it recently on “Christopher Closeup” (podcast below).
“When I first…thought of what the theme of the album was going to be,” recalled Kristin, “what kept coming to me was light: light at the end of the tunnel, God’s light, all these things. Every time I would [feel] down, something good would happen, and there would be light.”
As a result of that theme, one of the album’s tracks is “We are Lights,” penned by “Wicked’s” lyricist and composer Stephen Schwartz. Though originally written as a Hanukkah song, the lyrics about the light of faith – and the ways in which we can be light to one another – can be taken to heart by anyone.
The same is true of the song “The Stories That You Told.” Kristin explained, “I’ve had a lot of loss these past couple years, and I’ve had some big ones…The song is, to me, imagining someone that you’ve loved that’s passed on, and you and that person are laughing and talking about the memories that you’ve had and the stories that you’ve told each other…I believe in life hereafter, but let’s just say the memories for us left behind on this earth are what keep me going…I’m glad I [recorded it] because I think it will touch a lot of people, especially people who have had loss. And let’s not forget that a lot of times we haven’t been able to honor them because we haven’t been able to have funerals or big gatherings. So that was my way of honoring people that have passed on.”
There are also plenty of joyful songs on the album that reflect Kristin’s happiness during the holiday season. Celebrations with her family include lots of food, her father reading the story of Jesus’s birth from the Bible, going to church, and making a meal that they personally deliver to someone in need.
Thanks to her family, Kristin doesn’t have to be reminded to keep Christ in Christmas. It’s second nature to her. She said, “When you grow up in the South, it’s kind of like, you get born, you go to church. Of course, there’s been lots of questions on a personal level for me. Do I actually believe that? And I’ve come to the conclusion that, yes, I actually do because I’ve seen my own miracles in my life. I’ve been through a lot of…difficult times, too. But the faith aspect has been a very big, important part of my journey. I’ve seen my mom and dad go through a lot of hardship – and the faith aspect, to see that actually work – there’s no better lesson than that. I struck the lottery because I was adopted. And for me, these were the right parents. I learned a lot, and I continue to learn a lot from them.”
Though Kristin considers herself an “overall happy person,” she also admits she endures times of sadness and depression. However, it’s hard for people to accept that about her because, as she says, “I’m a unicorn, and I’ve got glitter and pink coming out of me.”
She explains how she has learned to deal with those difficult moments: “Happiness is a choice, and there are some days I can’t make that choice…But what I have learned to do is tell the people around me, ‘Today is not a good day for me. I’m sorry that it’s not and maybe it will change but today stinks. I can’t even go into why because there’s a million little reasons, and I don’t care to talk about them.’ But I want them to know so that they’re not like, ‘Where’s the girl we know?’ And I think that’s a good lesson for your listeners. It’s okay to tell people around you that today is not going to be a good day – or this is what I’m feeling today and we don’t have to make a big deal of it’…Because then they’re not expecting a tap dance and a baton twirl…I was very close to Robin Williams, and he was on all the time, until he wasn’t. I talked to him a lot about it because we were kind of similar in that we just loved life. But he said, ‘Depression can really get to me. It’s on the nips of my heels sometimes.’ I said, ‘Me too.’…I’ve decided to let people in on it. Today’s not the best day, but tomorrow might be better so bear with me.”
In order to combat those times of darkness, Kristin has adopted as her mantra this year the words from Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” She said, “Sometimes, I know this sounds weird, but I get quiet so that I can listen and hear what is being said to me. I believe it’s God. Sometimes it’ll not be the answer I want or the feeling I want, but that’s what I do.”
For people who listen to “Happiness is…Christmas,” Kristin has these wishes: “I hope that they smile, and I hope that they are eating food and opening presents…and I hope they just are happy. And then when they come upon a song like ‘The Stories That You Told,’ I hope they remember somebody that they’ve lost and their smile…There’s been so much to be bummed out about and you have to really look – seek and ye shall find – and you will find happiness. That’s what I want people to find in this album.”
(To listen to my full interview with Kristin Chenoweth, click on the podcast link):