Don’t mess with Mama.

When a Southern family hosts a big holiday meal, it's basically like the Olympics of casserole-making. And eating. Christmas dinner calls for all sorts of comforting baked dishes like classic green bean casserole and fluffy corn pudding. Additionally, there might be a jiggly gelatinous salad on the sideboard that only a few people will touch. 

While all of the side dishes are made to wingman the Orange-Glazed Ham, beef tenderloin, or roasted duck that will be residing at the center of the table (in theory), everyone knows that the casseroles are the real stars of the Christmas show. And out of those casseroles, there is one that is so holy, so revered, that the whole family knows not to let just anyone make it. That's the macaroni-and-cheese.

Roasted Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese
Credit: Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Ginny Branch Stelling; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

While this cheesy pasta bake seems simple, it requires a seasoned hand to make just right. In the past, many Southern families have discovered this fact the hard way, after having to choke down a dry noodle that someone's new girlfriend showed up with. The next year, it's not surprising if neither the cursed mac-and-cheese or the girlfriend are allowed in the house for Christmas dinner. Kidding. Sort of. In fact, if you show up with an unannounced dish of macaroni, it can be considered blasphemy. A show of utmost vulgarity. An act of war. This often goes the same for Thanksgiving and Easter, too.

Why is this particular dish so inflammatory? Because it's so beloved. It's a staple of any big meal, appealing to both kids and adults. There can be a dozen creamy green casseroles, but there is only one mac-and-cheese. Given that Southerners take food very seriously, just one family member is allowed the honor of bringing the macaroni-and-cheese, and it's typically Mama, Mama's sister, or Mama's Mama. Not even the cousin who went to culinary school gets to go near it. 

Can you earn the right to bring the macaroni-and-cheese to a Southern Christmas dinner? Are you Dolly Parton? If not, the odds are slim. In the rare chance, check out our Best-Ever Macaroni-and-Cheese Recipes, and proceed with caution.