Feeling a little in the doldrums this holiday season? Take a tip from Maddie Marlow and Tae Dye: Even the blues can inspire a happy Christmas tradition.
A few holiday seasons ago, the platinum-selling duo recall, Dye phoned Marlow in tears over a breakup, and Marlow immediately took command. "You're going to come over," she told Dye, "and we're going to bake cookies, and we're going to watch a movie."
"And we did," Dye happily remembers. "We watched Polar Express and ate cookies."
Ever since, a screening of the hope-filled Christmas movie has turned into a much-anticipated annual event for the duo, who consider themselves sisters. And even more joyfully, Dye's broken heart is a distant memory. Marlow and Dye's newest Christmas tradition is a festive double date with their husbands. Marlow, 25, married her high school boyfriend, Jonah Font, in November 2019, and Dye, also 25, married songwriter Josh Kerr this past February.
Mindful of social distancing, Marlow and Dye this year are mulling a date night to see the always-extravagant light display on the grounds of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry House and the nearby Opryland Hotel — which just goes to show that not even a global pandemic can dampen the holiday spirits of these two.
"We are Christmas fanatics," Marlow declares, and the cheerful sounds of their new Christmas EP, We Need Christmas, obviously confirm that.
The EP features two new songs that the duo co-wrote, as well as four holiday classics, and Marlow says the project was conceived with an eye for future add-ons. "We just got creative and had the best time," Marlow says about its creation.
The original music they wrote for the title track, she says, especially reflects their sentiment for this season: "'We Need Christmas' holds a lot more meaning this year than it has for us any other year. We're so thankful that we got to write something that, hopefully, is gonna make people feel a little bit better if they've had a rough time this year, which I'm sure they have. We all have."
But both Marlow and Dye say they rely on Christmas every year to lift their spirits. The two women grew up heartily believing in Santa Claus and enjoying the excitement of family activities during the holiday season. This Christmas, both will once again be making their way, along with their husbands, to their parents' homes. Marlow and her husband plan to get tested for COVID-19 before they head out to her family home in Sugar Land, Texas. Dye and her husband will be joining her immediate family, which has been strictly quarantining, in Shawnee, Oklahoma.
And what are they looking forward to the most?
"This sounds so cheesy, but I just love hugging my mama and my dad and my sister and all of my in-laws," says Marlow. "I cannot live without that, so my heart hurts for everyone that doesn't get to do that this year because I'm going to be squeezing my family extra-tight."
Dye gladly seconds the emotion. "I've never spent Christmas without my parents," she says. "I still sit on my mom's lap, and she's like, 'Honey, you're getting too old for this!'"
As both women enjoy the anticipation of those moments, they're doing a deep dive into the Christmas spirit. Dye has her favorite Christmas album, Ariana Grande's Christmas & Chill, on repeat. Marlow says she gravitates to the holiday albums by Kacey Musgraves and Mariah Carey, but her "random favorite Christmas song" is the Kenny Loggins classic, "Celebrate Me Home."
"I love that song," she says. "I don't know why, but it makes me want to cry and warms my heart at the same time."
Besides The Polar Express, they have other Christmas film favorites. "The one that brings me the most joy is The Grinch and a close second is The Holiday," says Marlow. For Dye, it's Four Christmases — if only, she adds, because "it's with Reese Witherspoon."
"We love all things Reese Witherspoon," Marlow interjects.
And how about the Hallmark Christmas movie channel?
"LOVE!" both Dye and Marlow exclaim in harmonic delight.
"If you don't love it, you are missing out," says Marlow. "It's cheesy. It's predictable, but it's so heartwarming."
Marlow and her husband — whom she describes as part "Clark Griswold" (the National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation hero) — have had several years together to create holiday traditions, including making sweet treats for neighbors and friends. "The chocolate-covered pretzels are coming atcha!" Marlow promises Dye. "That's Tae's favorite, so I always put extra in her treat box."
Dye and her husband have been together for less than three years, so they're just starting to make their own traditions. This season, Dye says, they've been trying out a sugared-pecan recipe in their air fryer. "It's so easy," she says, though she adds that the recipe creates something far too irresistible. "Pecans are dangerous!" she warns.
Dye is also discovering that she's having to get Kerr up to speed on some of her Christmas loves. "Yeah," she says, chuckling, "I married this man before finding out that he's never seen Christmas Vacation, and he doesn't like Christmas music!"
The movie oversight, she says, was rectified over Thanksgiving ("he liked it," she says with no small amount of relief). She also reports he's warmed to the Ariana Grande album, "and that's all I care about," she says, "so it's perfect."
And, she's quick to add, he "loves the Christmas songs we write" — which include the one on the EP that he collaborated on, "Merry Married Christmas."
"I actually had the title," Marlow explains. "Jonah and I are newlyweds, but Tae and Josh are freshly newlyweds, so it was cool to get to dig into where they are in their lives."
Both women say they've been busy shopping for their husbands for Christmas, with an eye toward some splurges, but neither say they have anything special on their own wish lists.
Marlow has requested a $15 silicone popcorn maker ("really lame," she acknowledges, "but I'm pumped about it") and a case for her new Kindle. Dye has submitted a list to Kerr's family "because they like to know exactly what you want," but honestly, she says, "I just don't really need anything."
Instead, both women, with their strong Christian faith, are more mindful of "the reason for the season."
"That is what we believe, for sure," says Marlow. "Christmas is a big spiritual moment for us — and just a reminder of faith and a reminder of Jesus loving all of us how we are, exactly where we are."
Where they are at the moment — off the road in the middle of a pandemic — has still left them feeling grateful.
"Last night Jonah and I were watching Christmas movies," Marlow shares, "and we made a pallet on the floor by the fire and just snuggled and had the best time. If there's a year to be a newlywed, it's this year, because we're so grateful that we get all of this quality time at home."
Dye agrees: "Part of me is so thankful that we got married this year at all. I'm so thankful that we got to squeeze it in right before everything. For me, it was the happiest year of my life in that regard. But a part of me is grieving the fact that people are going to look back at this year and have such negative feelings toward it. It's like this weird balance of, yes, this was an awful year, but I also loved it. It's the saddest yet the happiest year."
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