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.
We asked our Southern Facebook Brain Trust to help us name all the time-honored traditions that make a Southern-style Thanksgiving special. Let us know what we overlooked.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“While We’re All Together . . .”
“Let’s draw names for Christmas!”
Y'all—only Mama'n'em could come up with an EIGHTEEN-layer cake. But you have to admit, it would be a show stopper on the Thanksgiving table.