29 Ways To Celebrate a Southern Christmas

Christmas Tree with Acorn Ornamnets
Photo: Hector M. Sanchez

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 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 entrees are only a small part of the holiday dishes gracing our Christmas menus. Here are 29 quintessential ways to celebrate Christmas in the South.

01 of 29

Take to the Mountains

Pisgah National Forest. Appalachian Mountains in fall color.
Michael Bowles

Rent a mountain cabin in Appalachia and take the whole family someplace where a white Christmas is entirely possible. Nestled near a charming small town that goes all out for the holidays seems like the ideal place to celebrate.

02 of 29

Flee to the Sea

Dauphin Island Teal Beach House
Robbie Caponetto

Rent a beach house and welcome Santa seaside. Build your snowman out of sand instead of snow, and take in holiday lights along the boardwalk.

03 of 29

Pretend You Live in a Castle

Biltmore Estate at Christmas
Courtesy of Biltmore Company

Take a Christmas candlelight tour of Biltmore, that stunning Vanderbilt mansion in Asheville, North Carolina. The decorations are so inspiring, you'll want to recreate the look in your own home.

04 of 29

Have a Historic Holiday

John Rutledge House Inn at Christmas Charleston, SC
Robbie Caponetto

Tour historic Southern homes decked out for the holidays in places like Charleston, Savannah, and Natchez, Mississippi. With twinkling lights, boughs of greenery, Victorian-style trees, and Southern charm, you'll want to take time to soak in the festive decor.

05 of 29

Revel in Creole Tradition

Arnaud's Restaurant showing people sitting at dining tables during Reveillon Dinner.
Peter Frank Edwards

Experience reveillon dinners, the New Orleans revival of an old Creole tradition. Originally a feast for parishioners returning from midnight mass on Christmas Eve, the traditional meal is now a monthlong celebration with special restaurant menus, featuring a mix of breakfast items and Creole dishes.

06 of 29

Frolic Around the Christmas Tree Farm

Family at Christmas Tree Farm
Zac Macaulay/Getty Images

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.)

07 of 29

Celebrate with Citrus

Basket of Honeybell Oranges
Sue Smith/Getty Images

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.

08 of 29

Spread Christmas Cheer

Family singing carols wearing cowboy hatsFamily
Lori Andrews/Getty Images

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.

09 of 29

Go All Out when Decorating the Tree

Christmas Tree with Acorn Ornamnets
Hector M. Sanchez

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.)

10 of 29

Colonize Your Dining Room

Victorian Village Display
Stuart Dee/Getty Images

Cover your buffet with that 50-piece Victorian village your mother started for you when you got married. If you head to the mountains for Christmas anyway, you can expand your village over to the dining room table, right?

11 of 29

Cover Every Bare Surface

Magnolia Wreath
Laurey W. Glenn

Cover everything else with pine, magnolia, and red velvet bows. Undecorated surfaces at Christmastime make Southerners nervous.

12 of 29

Don't Forget the Mailbox

Mailbox decorated for Christmas
Linda Hughes/Getty Images

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.

13 of 29

Light Enough Candles to Survive a Power Outage

Christmas Mantel
Helen Norman

Candles, candles everywhere. From centerpieces to battery-operated window candles to jars that smell like you've been baking all day, there are more than enough options to make your home feel like the holidays.

14 of 29

Make Your House Glow

Holiday Window with Christmas Lights
Tetra Images/Getty Images

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.

15 of 29

Add the Final Touch

Poinsettia Christmas Tree
Laurey W. Glenn

Did you forget to buy poinsettias? Because that would be bad. No matter what other decorations there are, there's a place for the familiar Christmas plant.

16 of 29

Set the Table with Turkey and Dressing

Cornbread Dressing with Kale and Bacon
Iain Bagwell

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) is a must.

17 of 29

Carve the Ham

Carve Ham
Southern Living

A Smithfield ham from Virginia or a Benton's from Tennessee is a must for the holiday feast. Do not come at us with lesser swine.

18 of 29

Appreciate the Sweet Potatoes

Classic Sweet Potato Casserole
Beth Dreiling Hontzas

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."

19 of 29

Don't Forget the Sauce

Cranberry Sauce
Jennifer R. Davick

Cranberry sauce in any shape or form. It's a staple on any holiday table. Homemade is worth the extra effort and easier than you think to make.

20 of 29

Get Local

Chicken Tamales with Roasted Tomato-and-Dried Chile Sauce
Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke

Homemade tamales if you live in Texas; she crab soup in Charleston.

21 of 29

Finish with a Christmas Cake

Spiced Layer Cake;
Photo: Linda Pugliese; Food Stylist: Marian Cooper Cairns; Prop Stylist: Heather Chadduck Hillegas

A special holiday feast deserves to be followed by an extraordinary dessert. Bake 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.

22 of 29

And the Other Christmas Cake

Fruit Cake
Hector M. Sanchez

Don't forget the 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.")

23 of 29

Plus Some Sweets for Good Measure

Boozy Caramel Fudge
Hector M. Sanchez

During the holidays, you can never have enough sweets on the dessert tray. Whip up 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.

24 of 29

Don't Neglect the Crowd-Pleaser

Tennessee Whiskey-Pecan Pie
Jennifer Davick

Pecan Pie. This is a given, a tradition, and you better not leave it off the list.

25 of 29

Add a Colorful Classic

Ambrosia Recipe Image

Ambrosia is sweet and light and a must for any Southern occasion. Serve it in a cut-glass bowl so the oranges create a little pop of color on your table.

26 of 29

Set a Grand Table

Christmas Dinner Table
Photographer: Hector Sanchez; Prop Stylist: Heather Chadduck

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).

27 of 29

Prepare the Punch Bowl

Punch Bowl
Getty Images

Polish the silver and rinse out the punch bowl, which has likely collected dust since Thanksgiving. When the punch bowl comes out, everyone knows it's time to celebrate.

28 of 29

Get Out the Heirlooms

Red and White Christmas Table Decorating
Laurey W. Glenn

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.

29 of 29

And Keep It Together

Sliced Turkey
Alison Miksch

Pray the turkey is done when you hear the doorbell ring. We can taste those leftover turkey sandwiches now.

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