Christmas is coming early for Lea Michele (and her fans!).
On Oct. 25, the singer and actress will release her first-ever Christmas album, Christmas in The City, inspired by childhood memories of holidays spent in her hometown of New York City.
“It was always my dream to make a Christmas record,” Michele, 33, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “Christmas is so special to me. It’s such an important time of year for me and my family that I have so many incredible memories from.”
“I just got married, and it’s a very happy time in my life with my family right now,” adds Michele, who wed her husband, Zandy Reich, in March. “So making this album and releasing it at this time in my life just made so much sense.”
Christmas in The City’s tracklist includes Michele’s covers of holiday classics like “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Silent Night,” “Silver Bells,” “O Holy Night” and “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” from Frozen.
“Every single song that I picked on this record, these are my most favorite Christmas songs,” Michele says. “These are the songs that I always listen to on Christmas. The first song that I said, ‘This has to be on my record’ was ‘Silver Bells.’ ‘Silver Bells’ was my favorite Christmas song, because I love the lyrics, ‘It’s Christmas time in the city.’ That really became the jumping off point for this album, Christmas in The City, because I grew up in New York, and it’s such a beautiful time of year.”
For three of the covers on the album, Michele enlisted the help of her famous friends Jonathan Groff (who was her best man at her wedding), Darren Criss and Broadway star Cynthia Erivo. While Groff lends his voice to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” Criss sings on “White Christmas” and Erivo sings on “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
“Jonathan is my best friend in the entire world, and the song we’re singing on the record, ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas,’ we’ve been singing together for over 10 years,” Michele says. “We would often have to do Christmas benefits and stuff like that in New York so that song in particular has very special meaning to us.”
“Darren and I are dear friends so it was only natural that I would have him come on the record with me,” she continues. “My third very special guest is the incredible Cynthia Erivo, and if you don’t know Cynthia, you’re going to know her soon. She is incredible, and all of these singers — Darren, Jonathan and Cynthia — are all Broadway performers, and it was also really important to me that the sound of this record had that Broadway feeling. Because again, it’s New York, it’s Broadway, it’s my history.”
Along with the covers, the album also includes Michele’s original, “Christmas in New York.”
“I wrote this song as my real love letter,” she says. “It’s the anthem of the album, and it just highlights all of the special things New York has to offer. It paints this beautiful picture of New York, but it also is really about what it means to be with your family and friends and engaged in that holiday spirit.”
Michele notes that another special feature of this album is the fact that it reunited her with her former producers on Glee, Adam and Alex Anders.
“If you don’t know the Anders brothers, they did every single one of the over 800 songs we did on Glee,” she says. “It was very important to me that we reunited for this record. I wanted to bring back that sound from Glee — that very vibrant and bright and powerful sound that we created.”
For her album cover, Michele wore a red gown by the same designer who custom-designed her wedding dress: Monique Lhuillier.
“I wanted it to have a little bit of a Rachel Berry-meets-Carrie-Bradshaw-Sex-in-the-City vibe,” she says of the dress. “Everything [went] back to having this New York flare.”
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When she thinks back on Christmases past, Michele remembers “incredible” times waking up with her mom and dad to presents under their Christmas tree. As far as traditions go, Michele says one thing that has always remained constant over the years is music.
“I always remember waking up and hearing music playing — especially on Christmas morning,” she says. “So I wanted to make my own Christmas album that I could pass along to everyone. Hopefully a little of the Christmas joy that I experienced in my life can be transferred now to other people.”
Though Michele is mostly based on the West Coast now, she and her husband return home to N.Y.C. every holiday season.
“As soon as I come home in December, I immediately go to see the [Rockefeller Center] tree,” she says. “Or go to Central Park and just walk around or go to Radio City and see the Christmas show. I’ll do them again this year, and it’s always important for me in what I create and what I do, that I make sure that everything is incredibly personal. This is a Christmas record which is very universal but very specific and personal to my life. I think it really is a great explanation of where I’m at in my life.”
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This upcoming Christmas, Michele is looking forward to continuing a fun tradition her mom started.
“Usually my husband, my mom, my dad and I don’t go crazy with exchanging gifts, but my mother does pick out ugly Christmas sweaters for each one of us,” she says. “And each year we have to wear a different one. She always knocks it out of the park and picks the best sweaters for each one of us.”
Michele says in the future, she and Reich will likely celebrate the holidays with some traditions of their own.
“Of course, as our family grows, more traditions will come,” she says.
Earlier this month, Michele and Reich celebrated six months of marriage — and Michele says they couldn’t be happier.
“I have such an amazing husband and partner, and I feel very grateful to have such wonderful love and support,” she says. “I already have it from my family and friends and now I get to just have this amazing person to be with. Christmas with the four of us has already been so special, and I’m sure that we’re a married couple it will be even better. A couple days ago was our six month wedding anniversary, and I was very close to putting on my wedding dress and just walking around the house.”
“Wouldn’t that have been so fun to put it on and watch Bravo and make some avocado toast in my Monique Lhuillier wedding dress?” she adds with a laugh. “I’m going to do it one day. I am.”
Along with her Christmas album, Michele will also star in ABC’s upcoming Christmas movie, Same Time, Next Christmas, which she spent several weeks shooting in Hawaii.
“If you like rom-coms, if you like Christmas movies, you will enjoy it,” she says. “It’s sweet and heartfelt and beautiful to look at. I can’t wait to see it. I love Christmas movies and I love rom-coms, so you put the two together and this is sort of my dream movie.”
Christmas in The City will be available for preorder this Friday, Sept. 20.