The 76-year-old country star recalled Christmas rituals throughout her childhood during an interview with Better Home & Gardens published on Thursday. In the interview, she described how her mother, Avie Lee Owens, always made the holiday so special despite the difficult financial circumstances they were facing at the time.
“I always say Momma could tell you anything and make you believe it,” Parton explained. “She had to make Christmas good for all of us. She didn’t have any money to do it any other way. You know, we really didn’t know we were poor. I always make a joke, ‘We didn’t know we was poor ’til some smart-a** [came] up and told us.”
She went on to praise her mother, who passed away in 2003, for getting “creative” when telling “stories” about Christmas and cooking different meals.
“She could cook anything, and it would taste good, because she would talk about the magic she put in it. She could get you there,” Parton continued. “Like, she mentally got you there. It was more than just the story of Jesus being born. You could see those kings. You could see that star. You could smell that donkey.”
The “Jolene” singer said her mother would decorate their Christmas tree with coloured paper and foil-covered eggs, which is a ritual that Parton still follows.
“We didn’t even have electricity for lights on the tree. We had popcorn garland,” she said. “That’s one of the things I have to have today. I never got over being country.”
After acknowledging that she keeps a Christmas tree in every room of her house during the holidays, she shared a memory with her father, Robert Lee Parton.
“I always want a live tree because Daddy would take us to chop a tree down,” she added. “He’d look at all the trees and make us pick out the perfect one. And we’d all want to hold the axe, but he wouldn’t let us because we’d have probably chopped each other to pieces.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Parton specified that her Christmas decorations are put up “the day after Thanksgiving”.
“Christmas lights are turned on,” she said. “The wreaths go up. I have a little chapel on my property; I put a cross on top of that.”
Although she said that her family usually orders takeout on the night before Christmas, Parton also revealed that she sometimes cooks her signature chicken and dumplings for them.
“Everyone always wants my recipe,” she explained. “But I’m not even gonna leave it behind when I’m gone. I want them to always say, ‘This doesn’t taste the same. I miss Dolly’s.’”
Leading up to the holiday season, Parton has been a part of multiple Christmas-related projects, including the re-release of her album, A Holly Dolly Christmas, and a new film, Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas.
When asked if some of her latest work could mean that she’s the “new queen of Christmas,” the music legend declined that title and noted that it belongs to singer Mariah Carey.
“Now, don’t you say that! I’m not going to compete with Mariah,” Parton explained. “I love her. You think of Christmas, you think of Mariah. I’m happy to be second in line to her.”