Cody Johnson Shares Emotional Connection To a Merle Haggard Classic

Cody Johnson vividly remembers when money was really, really tight. The Texan is sharing the story of a time when he and his wife, Brandi, had no idea how they would pay their bills, and why he has such a strong connection to Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December.”

It was Christmas of 2012, Johnson was struggling to make ends meet in his career as a singer-songwriter, their bank account was overdrawn, and he and Brandi had no idea how they would pay their bills. Johnson had $20, the only money the couple had, which he put in a card to give to a family member.

“We were very young, very fresh in our marriage and that hit me hard,” Johnson recalls to CMT. “‘If We Make It Through December’ came on the radio on the way home, and I was biting my cheek trying not to cry.”

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. When Johnson got home, after giving away all their money, he got the mail and found two checks, both from ASCAP, for about $2500, his first royalty checks as a songwriter.

“I walked back in the house, hit my knees and showed her the checks,” Johnson remembers “We sat there and cried and ate leftovers from my parents’ house. I’ll never forget that song for that reason.”

Johnson is celebrating the holidays in a big way this year, with his own TV special. Johnson is starring in A Cody Johnson Christmas, premiering on CMT on December 13 at 9:00 PM ET. The singer-songwriter, who will appear on the show with his wife, two daughters and his parents, will sing through both classic Christmas carols and originals, along with Haggard’s “Ife We Make It Through December.”

Johnson just released  Leather, 12 songs that are the first of a two-part record. It’s fitting that Johnson is performing a Haggard song, since the 36-year-old vows to honor traditional country music with all of the records he releases.

“Throughout my career, I haven’t let what the format was putting on the radio cloud my vision for the genre,” Johnson tells The Tennessean. “Now that I have a chance to guide the direction of country music’s mainstream future, there will be cowboy hats, value-driven story songs and the inspirations of Brooks & DunnGarth Brooks, Merle Haggard, George Jones and Reba McEntire involved.”

See all of the songs Johnson is performing on A Cody Johnson Christmas below. Find music and tour dates at

A Cody Johnson Christmas Songs:

“Away in a Manger”
“Christmas All Year Long”
“Felix Navidad”
“Hat Made of Mistletoe”
“If We Make It Through December”
“I’ll Be Home For Christmas”
“Pretty Paper”
“Santa Claus is Back In Town”
“White Christmas”

Photo Credit: Jamie Schramm/CMA