Christmas to the Rescue

Published 1:58 pm Wednesday, December 8, 2021

I have had a number of Christmases and it’s hard to remember what I was doing in any particular year, but I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing during Christmas 38 years ago. Here’s the story.

First of all, I was in Nashville, Tennessee, and working at Opryland Hotel. That was an amazing time and place of employment for me. Holidays in the hospitality industry used to be difficult times, although to look at the website of the current Gaylord Opryland Hotel Country Christmas extravaganza you could never imagine tough times.

Opryland Hotel opened, adjacent to the late Opryland Theme Park, in 1977. To a country boy in town for songwriting it was a huge place with 600 rooms. I had only stayed at inexpensive motels in my life. They might have had 30 rooms and cost twenty dollars a night. The room rate at Opryland Hotel was three times that and it was successful from the “get-go.”

Except during the weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year. The late, great playwright, William Shakespeare used an appropriate idiom in his King Henry VI way back in 1592. “Dead as a doornail” was the business at Opryland Hotel over the Christmas holidays; that is until 1983. Christmas to the rescue!

Nashville and Country went together, as Forrest Gump would say, “Like peas and carrots.” The marketing gurus at Opryland Hotel put their heads and ideas together. Their charge was how to save six weeks of business and the demoralizing layoffs and plummeting revenues. Country Christmas at Opryland was born in 1983 and the holidays in Nashville have never been the same.

I was there from the beginning. I wasn’t a part of the marketing team; I worked in the front office, as it was called. I had once walked the halls of the 600 room property as its Night Manager, but graduated from the graveyard shift to daytime. We had also expanded from 600 rooms to over 1000.

A few of the highlights from that first Country Christmas included an amazing one million lights, a dinner show with Opryland Theme park musicians, dancers, and singers, a story-telling time with Grand Ole Opry stars, a Yule Log ceremony in the huge Magnolia Lobby, and amazing decorations throughout the property. And, yes, a Santa Claus that would introduce country music stars to turn on the Christmas lights at night.

Country Christmas 2021 dwarfs the 1983 version. Opryland Hotel has expanded two times since 1983 and stands at a gargantuan 2700 rooms now. The one million lights of 1983 have tripled. I might add that the $60 dollar room rate has more than tripled and it would cost in the mid-300’s to book a room at Opryland Hotel now.

Parking was free back in 1983. Now, even with paying over $300 per night to stay, the charge for parking your own car is $32.

I will leave you with a little Country Christmas trivia. At the first Country Christmas 38 years ago, who do you think played Santa Claus? I did! I might add with the help of a brand, new red suit, a few well-placed pillows, and some fake white hair and beard.

I introduced Porter Waggoner as the country star who was given the privilege of turning on the lights that first time.

A funny thing happened. My daughter was two years old and was held by my family. I walked up to her as Santa Claus and wished “Jessica” a Merry Christmas. She was surprised that Santa knew her name and I was confident that I had made a great impression as Santa.

Later that night, I asked her, “What did you think about Santa?”

She said, “He sounded a lot like you!”