We might fret over the turkey and fuss over the centerpiece, but deep down, we know what really matters.

Thanksgiving Dinner
Credit: Camerique/Contributor/Getty Images

It's easy to get lost in the holiday whirlwind—all the shopping and cooking and decorating and to-doing. All over the South, this time of year, "Mama" turns into a whirling dervish of activity. We're all striving to give the people we love their best Thanksgiving ever. But even as we're rifling through the recipe box and making a mile-long grocery list, even as we hunt down the silver pie server and break out "the good dishes," we still manage to hold onto the real meaning of this holiday—thankfulness.

Thanksgiving is not about hosting the perfect family dinner. It's about pausing, once a year, and bringing together the people we love so that we can count our blessings—"name them one by one," as an old hymn suggests—and offer heartfelt thanks for all that we have. Some of the things we're thankful for are big—like a college degree, at long last completed. Others are small—like the welcome sound of a hard rain on a hot summer day. Either way, being grateful is a blessing in itself. Here are some things to be thankful for this season:

1. The health and happiness of every friend or family member who is fortunate enough to be healthy and happy.

2. The colors of fall against a brilliant November sky.

3. The sound of leaves crunching beneath your feet and logs crackling in your fireplace.

4. Air so crisp that you forget all about the dog days of summer.

5. Anything cooked in your mother's favorite cast iron skillet, which is older than you are—maybe even older than she is.

6. Laughter around the dinner table.

7. Hands joined in family prayer.

8. Biscuits.

9. Sunday afternoon naps.

10. A mingling of heavenly Thanksgiving aromas: sweet potatoes and butter, coconut and oranges, strong coffee, turkey gravy, pumpkin, cranberry, and vanilla . . .

11. Leftover cornbread dressing . . . for breakfast . . . just this once.

12. Neighbors you can count on.

13. A spouse who laughs at your jokes.

14. Great daddies.

15. Great stories.

16. Grandmothers who say "pocket book" instead of purse; "ear bobs" instead of earrings; and "ice box" instead of refrigerator. (For the record, these ladies also have "Sunday shoes" that they wear only to church.)

17. Your grandfather's voice—or the memory of it.

18. Veterans, then and now, and the sacrifices they've all made.

19. A friend from first grade who still keeps in touch.

20. White Lily, Duke's, and Krispy Kreme.

21. A chilly night, one of Mama's handmade quilts to bundle up in, and nothing to do but watch Hallmark movies (or a rerun of Steel Magnolias).

22. A cat in your lap or a dog at your side.

23. Men who still know how to repair engines and tend livestock.

24. Small Southern towns where everybody knows everybody, and you can get one fine milkshake at the corner drugstore.

25. Whoever invented cream of chicken soup, Swiffer, and Mr. Coffee.

26. Home.