Kathie Lee Gifford put light, love, laughs, and her authentic touches of faith into the lives of millions of “Today” viewers every morning during 11 years with Hoda Kotb. It's not at all surprising that the showbiz veteran of stage, screen, and runaway morning show success still knew her way around the “Today” set when she came to visit on November 12.

No one can blame Kathie Lee Gifford for playfully trying to sneak a bottle of wine through security, where she defied orders saying: “Some way to treat a guest! I'm going through!” contraband and all.

Kathie Lee didn't need to worry about not having her favorite beverage. As Hoda Kotb reminded, the wineglasses stand ready on the fourth hour of “Today.” The Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza doesn’t yet have its holiday wardrobe of dazzling lights, but Kathie Lee Gifford still knows how to light up in a conversation with her honesty, humor, and spirit. There were lots of hugs and a wine glass, waiting for the lady who only said "so long" last April. Kathie Lee Gifford will never have to say goodbye to “Today.”

Days of music and kindness

Kathie Lee teases that she was born “with the pratfall and a rimshot” and the entertainment pro knows how to make an entrance. She hung back after Hoda’s exuberant introduction, lovingly milking her own song, saying “Never mind Hoda, let's listen!”.

After a lasting “girlfriend hug” with Kotb, and another for Jenna Bush Hager, who greeted Kathie Lee backstage, it was time to settle in and talk about her life in Nashville.

Kotb confirmed in unison with Kathie Lee that Gifford is “happier than I've been in years”, in Gifford's own words. She credits a big part of her personal peace to the “culture of kindness” in Nashville.

Gifford relishes the neighborly gestures of cookouts and impromptu entertaining, “like when I was growing up, and you in Texas (to Hager), and you in Cairo”, she jests to the morning partner she dubbed, "My Egyptian Goddess.”

“I hear church bells out my window,” reports Kathie Lee, who also feels gratitude that sirens near her home mean that someone is being rescued instead of murdered.

She is busy working and writing, doing oratorios and orchestral pieces similar to “The God Who Sees”, her project with acclaimed Christian singer-songwriter, Nicole C Mullen, which has been seen by over 1 million people in the last nine months. Far beyond popularity, the project has moved many to a fresh perspective in personal faith. Gifford returns to Israel in February for more film-making projects.

The ladies didn't sing any Christmas carols, but Kathie Lee Gifford wasn’t bashful at all about her favorite band in Nashville. She is a big fan of Tim Akers & The Smoking Section, and her love for the music brought her an unexpected experience.

Nice but nothing serious

Kathie Lee playfully gave the band another plug when she described “cleaning up after the guys and their cigarettes”, with a sweet wink.

One night while she was enjoying the group of session musicians who are a fixture in the Nashville music scene, she danced with a very gracious partner, who “kind of disappeared into the crowd”. The two got together again for “a couple of dates”, and Gifford declares he was always “a gentleman”.

The 66-year-old star called her “first date in 33 years” a “surreal experience”, noting that “the world has changed so much”. She was taken aback by how much attention the outings got in the media, thinking that “surely they would leave me alone down here.”

Kathie Lee has been collaborating musically with Tim Akers, too, and her longtime friend, Brett James. Faithful fans in need of an extra dose of Kathie Lee Gifford to make Christmas complete can watch her this weekend in her second Hallmark Movies & Mysteries feature, “A Godwink Christmas: Meant for Love”, on November 17.

She also has a song she feels is destined for Little Big Town in the not-too-distant future.

Kathie Lee is serious about a new fitness routine she found in Nashville, Manduu. She took off her black leather jacket to show off her serious tone and arm muscles. It's not certain if she and Hoda will have time to do any exercising together, but the two gal buddies had plans to “hang” today, November 13.

“People want authenticity”, Gifford insisted. Her sense of fun, on-camera fearless, and genuine faith reach people whether she is in Nashville or New York, and “Today” will always welcome Kathie Lee Gifford home.