Rent a mountain cabin in Appalachia and take the whole family someplace where a white Christmas is entirely possible.
Southerners can be homebodies this time of year, traveling only to visit family. But we do have a few favorite holiday destinations.
It may be 90 degrees outside, but Southerners always find a way to celebrate Christmas according to tradition. Some of us stay at home, celebrating with close family and bouncing between holiday parties. Some would rather escape the city chaos, and schedule our yearly vacations around spending Christmas in a new, relaxing spot. Whether you’re celebrating a white Christmas in the snowy mountains, or a sandy Christmas on the beach, there are a few traditions that Southerners recognize during the holiday season. From visiting iconic Southern landmarks (nothing beats the Biltmore at Christmastime), to taking part in historic Creole traditions in New Orleans, there’s plenty to do in the South during the winter months. We have it all—Christmas tree farms, plenty of poinsettias, lively Christmas carols, and enough magnolia garland to cover Santa’s workshop. Not to mention, we have the best holiday food around. Creamy casseroles, decadent Christmas cakes, and crowd-pleasing holiday dishes are only a small part of the holiday dishes gracing our Christmas menus. Here are 29 quintessential ways to celebrate Christmas in the South.
Rent a beach house and welcome Santa seaside.
Take a Christmas candlelight tour of Biltmore, that stunning Vanderbilt mansion in Asheville, North Carolina.
Tour historic Southern homes decked out for the holidays in places like Charleston, Savannah, and Natchez, Mississippi.
Experience reveillon dinners, the New Orleans revival of an old Creole tradition.
Rambling aside, there is much to be done on the home front if you really want to celebrate Christmas Southern-style. First, you’ll need to decorate:
Load the family into the SUV and strike out for the nearest Christmas tree farm. Take the kids on a hayride and buy them some hot chocolate. (Yes, some of us have made the unspeakable leap to artificial trees. Heaven help us if the Junior League finds out.)
While you’re out and about, support the local school fundraiser by ordering an enormous crate of Florida oranges and grapefruits. You’ll never be able to eat all that citrus, but you can decorate with it and make fruit baskets for elderly neighbors.
Once the tree is in the house—and you’ve kept the cat from climbing it—get into the holiday spirit with some Christmas music. Recommended for your playlist: “Christmas in Dixie” by Alabama; “Run, Run Rudolph” as interpreted by Lynyrd Skynyrd; Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain;” and “Blue Christmas”—Elvis just tears us up with that one, plus we love those woo-hoo-hoo-hoo background vocals.
Pour yourself some eggnog, and dive into your lighting plan. Before hanging your favorite ornaments on the tree, you’ll need to make that “to snow or not to snow” decision. (Since many of us never see a white Christmas, we learned to make our own by mixing Ivory Snow powdered detergent with water, and then beating it like egg whites till it’s stiff enough to be slathered on the tips of our trees. This allows us to pretend we live in the Smokies.)
Cover your buffet with that 50-piece Victorian village your mother started for you when you got married.
Cover everything else with pine, magnolia, and red velvet bows. Undecorated surfaces at Christmastime make Southerners nervous.
Decorate your mailbox. Tip from a genius floral designer in Birmingham: Decorate your mailbox and nothing else; your neighbors will assume your whole house is done if they see a pretty badge on the mailbox, so you can save yourself a lot of time and trouble.
Candles, candles everywhere.
The eaves of your house, as well as your porch railing, boxwoods, and (if you live on the water) your boat dock and any large watercraft should be aglow. Follow Virginia’s lead and put a lighted candle (electric these days) in every window.
Did you forget to buy poinsettias? Because that would be bad.
Now for the food. Some dishes are required eating this time of year. Even we aren’t sure why—we just know it wouldn’t be Christmas without them:
Turkey and dressing (cornbread dressing for many of us; maybe oyster dressing for those on the coast; and a stuffing akin to bread pudding if you hail from some of the border states).
A Smithfield ham from Virginia or a Benton’s from Tennessee; do not come at us with lesser swine.
Sweet potato casserole—a vibrant orange study in butter, sugar, milk, more sugar, pecans, maybe marshmallows . . . As the casserole dish makes its second lap around the table, someone will invariably say, “I have GOT to go on a diet in January—but this is Christmas.”
Cranberry sauce in any shape or form.
Homemade tamales if you live in Texas; she crab soup in Charleston.
A sky-high coconut layer cake, as well as chocolate, caramel, and red velvet layer cakes. And maybe a Mississippi Mud Cake. And a Texas Sheet Cake.
Fruitcake soaked in peach brandy. (We, too, are disturbed by the “fruit” in fruitcake, the colors of which resemble nothing found in nature, but try this dessert with a good cup of coffee, and it just says “holiday.”)
Fantasy Fudge made from a recipe your mother found years ago on a jar of Kraft Marshmallow Cream; divinity (but don’t attempt it when the humidity’s high, and each piece should have a pecan half on top); peanut brittle and pralines; a tin of teacakes and/or assorted Christmas cookies.
Pecan Pie. This is a given, a tradition, and you better not leave it off the list.
Ambrosia, served in a cut-glass bowl so the oranges create a little pop of color on your table.
Speaking of the table, Southerners don’t hesitate to pull out all the stops during the holidays:
For the big family dinner, we might set the table with Christmas china we’ve been collecting for years—especially if we caught a sale after Thanksgiving and finally acquired that oversized serving platter and—dare we dream it?—the gravy boat. We’re partial to Spode Christmas Tree and Lennox Holiday Dinnerware (that’s the one with the elegant ring of holly around the rim of the plate).
Polish the silver and rinse out the punch bowl, which has likely collected dust since Thanksgiving.
Send your grandmother’s tablecloth to the dry cleaners. Your mother lets you borrow it once a year, and you had BETTER take good care of it.
And just one more thing:
Pray the turkey is done when you hear the doorbell ring.