When Dolly Parton sings "I'll Be Home for Christmas" in her holiday special, she really means it.

The singer/actress returns to her roots in the Smoky Mountains - Pigeon Forge, Tenn., to be exact - for ABC's "Dolly Parton: Christmas at Home" (8 p.m., Ch. 4)."All of my people live up here," Parton said. "It seems real up here."

Unlike her ABC variety show "Dolly!," which was a ratings failure, there's no attempt to force Parton into a Hollywood variety-show mold. Instead, she takes the variety format and molds it to her liking.

"This is closer to me and more believable than anything I've done on TV before," said Parton, who is one of the executive producers of the show.

"We tried to recreate Christmases past. We went up to the old place and baked cookies and stuff with the kids - just did all kinds of fun things.

"It was real easy and real good, I think. We used only family and friends.

"It really was like Christmas used to be for our family; we just had nicer clothes and bigger budgets."

Parton is joined by her family, and, boy, does she ever have a lot of family. Brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins are all on hand - even her 68-year-old father and 66-year-old mother.

"They got married when Daddy was 17 and Mama was 15 and ended up with 12 children," Parton said. "They had a baby that first year and they've been going at it ever since."

Instead of taping in a studio, Parton and Co. tape in the Tennessee mountains - at the home where she grew up, in the hayloft and barn out back, in the little country church she attended as a child.

"That church scene was real special," she said. "Singing songs like `Joy to the World' and `Silent Night,' it was enough to just make me cry."

Dolly and the kids take a trip in a haywagon to a nearby senior citizens center, where they deliver both cookies and music.

"That was a lot of fun for all of us. I think everybody had a good time, and it really comes through," she said. "It was a sweet and magical thing to do."

There are also scenes of Dolly recording her new Christmas album in Nashville, and a fun outing at Dollywood, her Tennessee theme park.

Like all holiday TV specials, this one was filmed some time ago - in October, to be exact. But that didn't prevent Dolly and her family and friends from getting into the Christmas spirit.

"On, no, not at all," she said. "The weather was crisp and cool and it seemed like Christmas. There wasn't any snow, but they just sprayed everything white."

"We were all in the spirit of it. "We all have a fantasy-type mind."