To call Megan Alexander a Christmas enthusiast would be an understatement. Anyone who follows the “Inside Edition” correspondent and Christopher Award-winning children’s book author on Instagram knows that her love of the holiday is boundless and not confined to the month of December. But Megan’s passion for the Advent and Christmas season goes beyond the glitter and lights. It finds its foundation in Jesus’s birth and selfless acts of giving, two elements she is keen to share in her two latest projects: season two of the UP TV series “Small Town Christmas” and the new children’s book “The Magic of a Small Town Christmas.” Megan joined me recently on “Christopher Closeup” (podcast below) to talk life, career, and faith.
Megan’s love for Christmas stems from her childhood because her family would decorate every room in the house and play carols and hymns that touched her heart. In addition, she recalled, “My family always made it special to go to Christmas Eve service. Oftentimes, we’d go late to a late Mass or a late service and do the candlelight readings and singing of the carols, and my dad would sit us down on Christmas Eve and read the birth of Jesus…So yes, I get into the decorations and the songs, but I’m also very aware that it’s a celebration of the most important day for Christians, which is the birth of our Savior.”
Once Megan got married and became a mom herself, she grew excited to pass on her love of the holidays to her three children, while also teaching them the meaning behind it all. Parties and driving around different neighborhoods to admire Christmas lights are therefore coupled with volunteering at church and buying food to pass out to the homeless on Christmas Eve day.
During the COVID shutdown, when everyone was staying at home, Megan reflected on a tradition from her childhood and adulthood: visiting small towns to see the unique ways they celebrated the holidays. With 20 years of media experience, she decided to develop and pitch a TV show about exactly that topic. UP TV responded, leading to season one of “Small Town Christmas” in 2021 – and season two this year.
Each episode highlights one town’s people and traditions. Season one covered Branson, Missouri; Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; Natchitoches, Louisiana; and Summerville, South Carolina. Season two takes her to Ellijay, Georgia; Pigeon Forge, Tennessee; North Pole, Alaska; and Frostburg, Maryland.
Megan relishes getting to know new people, such as the man in North Pole who legally changed his name to Santa Claus so he could truthfully answer children’s letters to old Kris Kringle. She also enjoyed learning about the Cajun Christmas traditions in Natchitoches, which include Papa Noel and his boat pulled by eight alligators in Santa hats instead of reindeer.
Of course, Megan aims to take things a little deeper, too. She said, “I really want to produce inspiring, uplifting content. I always think, ‘Can I watch this with my kids? Would I be proud to recommend this to friends and family? Would my parents be proud of me?’ That’s a big driving force for me. But then it’s also, how can I glorify the Lord in my work? In each town, as I’m looking at my rundown and all the aspects that we’re covering, we try to feature an event, some music, a local business, but then I always say, ‘What’s our faith element? Are we going to a church? Are we featuring a church choir?’ Last year in season one, it was such a blessing to sit down with the pastor at the Moravian Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and talk to him about his candlelight service…[This year], in North Pole Alaska, we are going to visit St. Nicholas Catholic Church…and be taking a peek at some of their community events and what they do.”
Megan’s new children’s book “The Magic of a Small Town Christmas” (illustrated by Hiroe Nakata) grew out of her experiences on season one of “Small Town Christmas” and wanting to share them with her kids – and other kids by extension.
She created the fictional town of Heartbeat Falls to celebrate traditions, such as visiting the local Christmas tree farm, neighbors sharing a meal, and families baking sugar cookies together.
One thing Megan’s family recently did together was travel to Rome to see various sites from Christian history, including the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, the Coliseum, and Circus Maximus. Seeing Michelangelo’s work was like “the Bible come to life” for her kids. And Megan herself was deeply moved by seeing the prison in which St. Paul was held. “It gave me a bigger appreciation of reading the Scriptures,” she said.
Though she is not Catholic, Megan embodies a spirit of ecumenism, thanks partly to her grandmother. She explained, “My grandmother was Catholic and brought us to Mass. It was very important to her, and she was a big inspiration for me. She used to keep prayer books, and underline Scriptures in her Bible, and have a St. Joseph statue in her garden. It was a really important part of her life, and that sticks with you as a child. I appreciate very much the reverence that the Catholic Church has for God and for Jesus, and the respect is front and center. For me, sometimes life can get busy, and we have bells and whistles and a lot going on. Then, you walk in a Catholic church, and it’s like, ‘Okay, take a deep breath. Let’s focus on exactly what matters.’ You see the cross at the altar, you see a crucifix, and it’s a re-centering for me. So, yes, I’m incredibly grateful to the Catholic Church and found a lot of really neat ones to put on this show, ‘Small Town Christmas,’ that make Christmas very special.”
One other event gave Megan an appreciation for a particular Catholic Church. She recalled, “When Billy Graham passed away, we wanted to cover it [on ‘Inside Edition’]. I said to my boss, “Gosh, it’d be really neat to do a report inside a church about his life and what he meant to the world.’ We called all the churches around New York City, and I couldn’t get anyone to call me back except for the Catholic Church, St. Mark’s, Midtown West. They said, ‘Absolutely, come on in,’ and they welcomed me in with open arms and I did a report. Billy Graham, as we know, was not Catholic. But the Catholic Church said, ‘We’d love to be a part of honoring this man’s life,’ so I was pleasantly surprised by that and thought it was a neat moment.”
The thankfulness Megan feels toward that church isn’t unique. She has worked to build a habit of gratitude not just in her own life, but in her kids’ lives as well, because she knows firsthand the difference it makes. She explained, “It totally changes your mindset, changes your spirit. I drive my kids to school in the morning and I’m constantly saying, ‘Hey, what’s something we’re thankful for right now?’…I journal. I try to write down gratitude and thankfulness in my journal, and yes, I try to keep it in conversation with my kids because it makes all the difference. That’s something that my husband says to me often. If I start to get stressed out about the building of the shows for ‘Small Town Christmas’ or getting organized with my Christmas book, he’s like, ‘Hey, don’t forget that you’re doing what you love. You get to celebrate Christmas for a job, Megan. Be grateful.’ And I’m like, ‘Amen. You’re absolutely right.’ So my husband reminds me, ‘Be grateful for what you’re doing and for those small moments in life, for your family, for your friends.'”
In closing, Megan summed up her wishes for people who watch “Small Town Christmas” and read “The Magic of a Small Town Christmas” in this way: “I hope that it will bring some inspiration to families, and they’ll think about creating their own traditions from watching the television show…Then, for the book, it’s a time to sit together and read and talk about Christmas memories, and think about the people in our lives that we can appreciate. I say to my boys, ‘Hey, let’s go down to the local bakery and say thank you for making all these Christmas desserts. That’s their hard work and their craftsmanship.’ It’s appreciation of all the different ways that everybody contributes to this time of year.”
(To listen to my full interview with Megan Alexander, click on the podcast link):
Megan Alexander interview (2022) – Christopher Closeup