Martina McBride has teamed up with Cracker Barrel to give the gift of joy this Christmas season, and she tells Taste of Country that's one of her favorite parts of her music career.

The powerhouse country singer kicked off Cracker Barrel's Countdown to Christmas with an elaborate, old-school performance of "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays," and she teamed with the down-home food chain and retailer for a contest in which nominated families got to travel to see her Christmas live show, which included dinner and a meet and greet with the singer.

"It was very joyful," she recalls of the experience. "I thought that was just an amazing thing to be able to do ... that's what I love about what I do. I feel like music is such a great communicator, and I sing a lot of songs that I feel like tell people's stories or that people feel connected to, because it does make them feel like somebody else understands what they're going through. Being able to be onstage or make records that touch people's emotions and give people hope or inspiration is one of my favorite things about what I do."

McBride has just released a new Christmas album titled It's the Holiday Season, and she says music has always been an essential part of her own Christmas experience.

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"It's so special. Music usually evokes a lot of memories, and Christmas music is just the epitome of that. There's so much nostalgia and memories built up around Christmas music," she says.

The singer names Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas" as one song that takes her back to her own childhood.

"Santa Claus always covered the presents every Christmas Eve with a blanket, so when we came out to open presents on Christmas morning, my dad would always do this big reveal," she recalls fondly. "It built up the anticipation. We still do that with our kids, even though they're 23, 20 and 13 now."

McBride is married to John McBride, who has built a parallel career as one of the most respected sound engineers in Music City. Their two older daughters, Delany and Emma Justine, now reside in Los Angeles, but when Taste of Country spoke to her by phone on Friday (Dec. 21), they were both home for the holidays, and the singer said she was "getting there, pretty close" to finished with Christmas preparations.

That was being interrupted by appearances in support of Cracker Barrel's Countdown to Christmas and her own new holiday collection, and McBride has also been very busy elsewhere. In November she launched a new cooking show, Martina's Table, and she toured from Nov. 23-Dec. 8 on her The Joy of Christmas Tour 2018. She also released a new cookbook, Martina’s Kitchen Mix: My Recipe Playlist for Real Life, on Oct. 30, but McBride seems unphased by her busy schedule.

"Why not, right?" she asks rhetorically. "You have one life, and if you're lucky enough to have more than one passion, and you're lucky enough to have the opportunity to share that, who would turn that down? It's really exciting to get to do something different."

Cracker Barrel's Countdown to Christmas began on Dec. 1, and it features 25 days of holiday and music-themed surprises and offers. Brett Young, Josh Turner and Dailey & Vincent are among the other artists involved. For more information on each day’s surprise, visit Crackerbarrel.com/Christmas and follow along on social media @CrackerBarrel.

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