“This dream of mine to write Christmas music was something that I literally had in my spirit and in my heart, since I was a child,” Elizabeth Chan, a songwriter known for her catalog of Christmas music, tells Yahoo Life. “Even when I think about it now, I tear up because it's just something that was always part of who I was. When I was a child, I would say how much I wanted to write Christmas music or how much I loved Christmas music. It was cute. And when I got older, it started to be like, what are you talking about? It never left, this idea that I could write Christmas music, this need to write Christmas music — it never left my spirit or my soul. And it was always something that was in my heart.”
Chan may be the reigning queen of Christmas music now, but it was quite the road to get there. Though the musician boasts multiple Christmas albums and holiday tunes that have appeared across movies, TV and commercials, she tells Yahoo Life that her life was once “just like everybody else’s."
“I had a regular job,” the former marketing executive explains. “I had a boss. I had a 9 to 5. I reported to an office. I worked really diligently. I was the first one in the office, I was the last to leave sometimes. I would eat all of my meals in the office. I would brush my teeth, go to bed, and do it all over again.”
As a child of immigrant parents, she was told that the markers of success — such as financial stability and raising a family — couldn’t come with a musician’s lifestyle. Trusting her parents knew what was best, Chan plugged away at her corporate career. Then, in 2011, something shifted: Chan’s stressful lifestyle led to heart issues and shingles, and she wondered if this was all life had to offer.
“I had this epiphany where I realized I had spent all these years, rinse and repeat, doing the same thing,” she says. “I felt like something was missing.”
Chan found that missing piece when she looked back on the a constant in her life: her passion for Christmas music.
“I started to visualize what my life would look like in five years,” Chan explains. “If I wrote Christmas music, what could I see that could change my life? I know it sounds so silly, but I really just sat down and wrote this vision statement about what happiness looks like and how I can achieve it. And that was the moment I really didn't know what I was doing. I just knew that I had a vision. I knew that my heart never escaped wanting to write Christmas music.”
Chan quit her job and put her energy into recording Christmas music, but it wasn’t easy. She says it took several years for her music career to take off — and they were the "toughest" of her life.
“There were days where I didn't know how I was going to pay my bills because I had gone through my savings. My husband and I were eating dollar pizzas,” she explains. “Every dime that I had, I would put back into writing music, recording music at the time.”
Her dream led to fights between her and her husband, who pointed out that he didn’t “marry a musician.” Chan says he’s right; she wasn’t a musician when they met, but she became one. Still, she wasn’t sure if there was a “place” for her in the industry.
“I really didn't get to that point where I was sure that I was doing the right thing until maybe three years into my journey,” she says. “It was a long, hard three years.”
Now, with multiple albums under her belt — including her most recent, appropriately titled Queen of Christmas — Chan has more than found her place in the industry. She even qualified for a Grammy nomination in the spoken word category.
“The biggest lesson that I ever learned is if you truly love something, don't give up because the minute that you give up, magic stops happening,” she says. “It's not easy going after your dream, but there's magic.”
—Video produced by Jacquie Cosgrove.
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