ABC/Heidi GutmanSeven-time host Jennifer Nettles promised an unforgettable open to this year’s CMA Country Christmas special, and Monday night on ABC she delivered, starting the show backstage at the Grand Ole Opry with a performance of “Cool Yule” that included a troupe of dancers and multiple quick-changes.

This year’s bumper crop of country Christmas albums ensured a CMA Country Christmas like none before. Brett Eldredge offered “Let It Snow” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from his big-band record, GlowKacey Musgraves injected an island feel with “Mele Kalikimaka,” also returning to do her original, “Christmas Makes Me Cry,” both from A Very Kacey Christmas.

On the pop side, Amy Grant did the classic title track from her new Tennessee Christmas project, with Sarah McLachlan and Kelly Clarkson offering tunes from their latest holiday efforts as well.   

The evening’s most memorable moments came with the collaborations. Chris Young and Brad Paisley recreated their rendition of “The First Noel” from Chris’s new It Must Be Christmas recording. The Voices of Lee backed up Rascal Flatts on an a capella take on “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” from The Greatest Gift of AllKelsea Ballerini teamed up with jazz piano prodigy Joey Alexander on her new holiday single, “My Favorite Things.”

The evening’s host proved she still had a couple tricks up her emerald-colored sleeve, as Jennifer duetted with Broadway’s Idina Menzel on “Little Drummer Boy” and R&B sensation Andra Day on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman,” both from Nettles’ To Celebrate Christmas collection.

Earlier in the evening, Trisha Yearwood asked “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” but she returned for perhaps the most touching moment of the night, teaming up with Loretta Lynn and Jennifer to sing a song the Coal Miner’s Daughter wrote half a century ago, the appropriately-titled “Country Christmas.” It’s on Loretta’s new yuletide effort, White Christmas Blue.

Jennifer and Trisha closed out the night with another song from Ms. Yearwood’s Christmas Together album with husband Garth Brooks. Appropriately, Santa appeared as the two sang “The Man with the Bag.”

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