Christmastime should offer many special opportunities: reconnecting with family and friends, ruminating on the idea of peace on earth, reflecting on a Savior’s entrance into this plane of existence.
Making bad puns into album titles should not be one of those opportunities. When it came time for naming their first, full-fledged Christmas project, wiser heads within the framework that is Third Day prevailed.
“I was kicking around the title of ‘On The Third Day of Christmas,’ but I was outvoted,” says bassist Tai Anderson.
Instead, the five-man band from Atlanta returned to a time-honored (for them, anyway), yet potent approach for creating and naming their Christmas effort. Fusing familiar classics with original songs, and studio tracks with live performances, Third Day offers up their unique blend of gutsy, yet sensitive music tailor-made for the season.
It’s the perfect time for Christmas Offerings.
Through a ten-plus year career, spanning studio albums, concert videos, sold-out stadium shows, national awards and two previous entries in the Offerings series, Third Day has never been willing to settle for the status quo. The partnership of vocalist/guitarist Mac Powell, guitarists Mark Lee and Brad Avery, bassist Anderson and drummer David Carr has long bolstered the idea of driving, spirit-filled rock and roll, while remaining true to the members’ internal search for truth and relationship, both earthly and heavenly.
With the release of Christmas Offerings, you see the curtains of their lives pulled back a bit, giving us a glimpse of the Christmas songs that meant so much to them growing up, as well as using four new tracks to tell contemporary stories that cast them in their off-stage roles as husbands, fathers, friends and men of God.
And in turning to the hybrid style of music-making the Offerings series allows, you see the Christmas season from so many musical angles, a situation that keeps the process interesting for music-maker and music-lover alike.
“In the past eighteen months, so many people have asked us when we were going to record a Christmas project,” Powell says. “All of us are excited about the new direction we have taken with these classic Christmas songs as well as these new Christmas ‘offerings’ we have written.”
“I think the Offerings records are interesting because right from the start we established something, with half of it being live and half of it being covers, which we really hadn’t done on the studio records,” Anderson says. “This time around, as we were looking at a Christmas project, the thought was, ‘How do we approach this within the context of the Offerings series?’”
Anderson continues, “We tried to accentuate the freeing aspects, because Christian music is already pretty singular in subject matter. When you throw in the Christmas aspect, it can be even more narrowing. By making it an Offerings record, musically we felt we already had a tone established; a worshipful tone.”
Christmas Offerings is chock full of examples of the hallmark Third Day sound, this time overlaying seasonal standards such as “Joy To The World,” “O Holy Night,” “What Child Is This?” and “O Come All Ye Faithful,” instantly transforming and refreshing the familiar songs into vital pieces for the 21st century.
“These traditional songs have these amazing lyrics and really good music, and you can feel the authenticity. It just feels real,” Anderson says. “The person believes what they’re saying. For some people, where Christmas might just represent a tradition or a form of a nursery rhyme, for us, it's about much more than that. And that brings to this project sincerity, where we can make it unique and special.”
Add to that mix the four original songs on Christmas Offerings, each primarily written by a different member of the band, and it amplifies the meaning for the season. Fans have long loved singer Mac Powell’s unique, trademark growl of a voice for the combination of power and warmth it brings. Powell’s desire for his original composition, “Born In Bethlehem,” was to bring that earthy feel to a timeless reminder. “I wanted to write a simple worship song that could focus not only on the birth of Christ, but his death and resurrection as well,” Powell says.
“It’s only because he conquered death and sin with his resurrection that we can celebrate the birth of Jesus.”
Guitarist Brad Avery’s contribution titled “Merry Christmas” takes a look at a different type of anticipation for the season, and how absence and fondness are intertwined. “We have been going through the process of adopting a girl from China for quite a while now, and the journey has taken much longer than we expected,” Avery says. “So, my wife Mindi suggested that I write a song to capture our feelings about enduring another Christmas season without her.”
Mark Lee, Avery’s partner in Third Day’s two-guitar attack, brings a modern-day observation about the season home. “Two of my favorite traditions during the Christmas season are to attend candlelight services at church and to drive around and look at the Christmas lights in the community,” Lee says of his song, “Jesus, Light of the World.”
“The symbolism in the beauty of the lights is powerful to me as I consider Jesus being the light of the world not onlytwo thousand years ago, but also today. This song is a prayer and a heart cry for Jesus to be the light of the world todayin my life.”
And Anderson’s contribution finds that light as well, albeit sitting right in the back seat of his car. “I was feeling conflicted about Christmas, feeling like it was such a mixed thing where I love it but the commercialism just absolutely drains it from me,” Anderson says. “We went to a party and we were in the car going home, and I'm totally in Scrooge mode. My four-year-old daughter just says, ‘Daddy, I think Jesus’ birthday is just different.’”
“And at that point I thought I’d love to have that innocence back. We all lose it, and it’s unfortunate. There’s a meaningful depth to Christmas that we all want to feel and experience.”
Finally, a four-song section of Christmas Offerings taps into what has made Third Day a musical force all these years: the live performance. But rather than just setting up the mikes and hitting a record button at one of their high-octane shows, the band took a different approach, inviting 150-plus friends to an intimate setting at Atlanta’s Nickel & Dime Studios, turning them into a de facto choir and performing the songs live.
“The overall feel of it is like a natural choir, more so than the other live recordings we've done. And it doesn't feel like a professional choir either,” Anderson says. “When you hear the crowd singing, it feels like the experiences you've had being in a crowd singing.”
The band’s drummer, David Carr, adds, “It was a pleasure to know that as we were performing and leading people in these classic Christmas standards, it was being well captured for all the world to hear. Aside from the late spring temperatures of May and the feeling of summer coming on it was a pretty natural process singing songs about the birth of Jesus.”
All of the different musical and lyrical approaches keep the final result of Christmas Offerings an interesting, yet trademark example of the power of Third Day. And it comes from the place of treating the music, the subject matter and the intended audience with respect.
“For us, the Offerings series has always been a ‘give back’ of sorts, and Christmas Offerings follows suit at the time of year when giving gifts and offerings come most natural,” Lee says. “This project is our response to the fans that have long supported us and urged us to release a Christmas project. Most importantly, it is our response in worship to God as we reflect on all the blessings he has given us through the years.”
And like a gift from a longtime, thoughtful friend, Third Day has presented us with exactly what we wanted, exactly when we needed it.
Physical copy of Third Day's Christmas Offerings CD in a jewel-case.