In honor of Hannah Kerr’s latest release, Christmas Eve In Bethlehem, we sat down with Hannah to talk all things Christmas and music!
How did the idea for a Christmas album come to be?
I have always loved Christmas music, and the album came together slowly as I thought about what Christmas really means to me. I came to the idea that, to me, Christmas is about how God loves us enough to be truly with us. We get to be reminded at Christmas that God is Emmanuel and make the choice to invite Him into our lives and hearts. The album is called Christmas Eve in Bethlehem because I felt like that song embodied this idea of remembering Christ’s coming while also responding to that beautiful reality. All of the songs work together to show the emotions that represent my experience of the Christmas season: joy, warmth, expectation, intimacy with God, and reverence. We may not have actually been in Bethlehem the night that Jesus was born, but we still have a choice to invite him into our lives every Christmas and live in expectation of his coming again someday.
How different was the process for writing and arranging Christmas music for you?
It was definitely different than what I’m used to! I really enjoyed the process though because it was challenging and pushed me outside of my comfort zone. Writing the songs (“Christmas Eve in Bethlehem” and “Emmanuel”) was amazing because I had to really sit with the Christmas story and consider how the truth of Christ’s coming resonated with me. I wanted to say something unique while also allowing people to feel a sense of peace and comfort through the songs. Arranging Christmas songs was also difficult but so worth it and fun. So many Christmas songs have been done by so many different artists, and there’s a pressure to make the songs your own in some way while also preserving a sense of the original song. I love jazz music, so having professional jazz musicians come in and record on these songs was absolutely incredible. I would share my hope for the song with them, and then they would work their magic and use their gifts to bring that dream to life in a way that was better than I could have even anticipated. I love learning from people who are better than me; I really feel like I grew as a musician and artist during the recording and arranging process.
Since you recorded this when it wasn’t the season, how did you get into the Christmas spirit?
Nobody tells you that you have to record Christmas music in the middle of summer! It was such a challenge to walk in from the 100-degree Nashville weather and then immediately sing Christmas songs about snow, but it was still so fun. I’m the kind of person who will listen to Christmas music in September, so it’s actually pretty easy for me to get in the Christmas spirit once the music is playing. I brought out my Christmas sweater in July and just went to Christmas in my mind while I was singing. And honestly, it’s easy to get in the spirit when you consider the miracle of Christmas that still carries promise all year long. Jesus doesn’t only come to us on December 25th, so I just had the opportunity to remember his coming a little earlier than normal. J
How was it creating the track order for the album?
It was hard to choose an order because the songs are all so different from one another, but at the end of the day I think the order serves the message of the album. We start on a fun and joyful note that invites people into the season, and then move through a progression of response to the Christmas story. The middle of the album brings out the more reverent, expectant aspects of the Christmas season, and then we end on another joyful note. Overall, I chose the order based on how the songs and messages flowed together.
Do you have a personal favorite/standout lyric or song on this album?
I love “Emmanuel” and I’m so proud of the way that song turned out. We wanted to capture the beauty in the simplicity of Christmas and remember how Jesus came with such humility and honesty. I think we need reminders of simple truth sometimes, and that song does that for me. I love the chorus lyrics that say: “Emmanuel, a manger for a bed; no crown upon his head; he came like us instead.” It paints a picture of Jesus’ humility and desire to be with us in every sense of the word. I love singing those lines.
Do you have a favorite Christmas song from another artist you listen to every year?
Yes! I love Casting Crowns’ Christmas album called Peace on Earth. It came out in 2008, and my family has listened to it on repeat every year since then. It’s such an incredible album that provides a full picture of the Christmas story and provokes deep thought about it. It’s a masterpiece in my opinion.
Do you have any favorite Christmas traditions?
My family loves food and quality time, so those are really what make up our Christmas traditions. On Christmas Eve my mom, my brothers, and I make this thing called Monkey Bread. It’s basically a cinnamon roll but a million times better, and we eat it on Christmas morning. It’s always fun to make it together and then wait in anticipation to eat it together in the morning—and it tastes SO good.
What is the favorite gift you’ve given and received?
I love to give creative gifts to my family, and I usually make them. My brothers and I record a song for my mom almost every year, and she always loves that because it’s personal. I also love to get crafty at Christmas, so I find fun gift ideas on Pinterest and make them for my family. I think they really like those, and I definitely enjoy making them. My favorite gifts to receive as a kid were American Girl dolls. I would get one every Christmas growing up, and that was my one big gift from Santa as a kid. I still have them and would love to pass them on to a daughter of my own someday because they carry such great memories.