Southern Thanksgiving Traditions That Never Go Out of Style

This time of year, we break out Memaw's recipes, check the football schedule, and prepare to give Aunt Birdie some sugar.

While Southern mamas take Christmas completely over the top, we have a sneaking suspicion that deep down, some of the ladies enjoy a traditional Southern Thanksgiving more. There's no pressure to buy gifts that will please the in-laws, no lights to string, pageants to rehearse, or credit card debt to rack up. There's only food—wonderful food—served on a pretty table that welcomes the whole family back together, maybe for the only time this year. Oh, and one other thing: divine leftovers.

Here are a few of the time-honored traditions that make a Southern-style Thanksgiving special.

Woman preparing roasted turkey in oven
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Offer Thanks, Say Grace, or Ask the Blessing

Whatever your family calls this moment, chances are there's a designated family elder who gives thanks on your behalf for the many ways you and yours have been blessed throughout the year. This prayer will thank God "for this food and the hands that prepared it." And you look forward to hearing that prayer in that voice every year.

Thanksgiving Classic Bread Dressing Recipe

Turkey & Dressing . . . But Mostly Dressing

We love our turkey but really, we could make do with a chicken if we had to. Or a ham, provided there was some homemade spicy mustard involved. It's Memaw's dressing recipe that's our line in the sand. Southerners can't have Thanksgiving without dressing and gravy. Cranberry sauce runs a close second, though we're split on whether we like it homemade or poured jiggly out of a can.

Most of the South is cornbread dressing territory, though some states in the Upper South and spots on the coast might diverge from that. In general, bring on the "cream of" soups and just the right amount of sage if you want to keep us happy.

Throwback: Years ago, a Southern Living editor from Texas had this to say about variations on traditional cornbread dressing: "I had oyster dressing once—but I was in love."

Our favorite turkey quote from Facebook:

"We have two fried turkeys on Thanksgiving. The first one out of the oil is an appetizer, and we converge on it like buzzards. Then we slice the second one to seem civilized and serve it with cornbread dressing, cranberry sauce, roasted veggies, Brussels sprouts with lots of bacon, and Sister Schubert's rolls."

Crispy Onions and Parmesan Chicken-Broccoli Casserole
Victor Protasio; Food Styling: Rishon Hanners; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis

Pass the Casserole(s)

No Southern cook is going avant-garde on Thanksgiving. Give us sweet potato casserole (so we can argue about whether it should have marshmallows or pecans on top . . . the correct answer is "pecans"). Give us our broccoli casserole, our green bean casserole (or get fancy with some green bean bundles wrapped in bacon), our deviled eggs, and our Sister Schubert dinner rolls.

We require pecan pie but wouldn't mind if somebody also brought a lemon ice box. Mama will insist on a congealed salad, though the kids won't touch it. They just want to know if there's any more mac 'n cheese left.

Gimme Some Sugar

You know it's coming—the great aunts want you to kiss them on the cheek and let them tell you how much you've grown . . . even if you're 45. We're curious if there are any tried and true aversions tactics out there, or if most of our Southern Living fans lean in without reservation.

What Time's the Game?

Southerners can't resist a little "all in good fun" smack talk about in-state rivalries and bowl games, usually an hour or two after the family meal, when we start circling the foil-covered leftovers for "just one more little taste" of this or that. This part of the celebration might even require dishes that are very specific for sports. Collard Greens Dip, anyone?

"While We're All Together . . ."

"Let's draw names for Christmas!" What's your go-to method for this tradition? Do you choose names out of a hat, a bowl, or the last casserole dish that was cleaned out by your always hungry uncle?

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