The SL Holiday Must-List
Our list of things every Southerner should see, make, taste, or do for the merriest season ever.
Meet a Reindeer
Join in all the reindeer games at Nashville's Cheekwood. There you'll get an up-close look at a team of the majestic creatures (who hail from Strickland Place Farms in nearby White House, Tennessee) before the furry valets report for duty on Christmas Eve. cheekwood.org
Create a Warm Welcome
Our favorite way to light up the season is with a brilliant array of paper luminaries. Line them along front walks, driveways, and porches for a fiery Christmas display that's so simple (and affordable) to pull off.
To create your own gleaming arrangement, generously cover the bottom of white paper bags with sand, which will keep them sturdy and stationary when exposed to the elements. Arrange bags in desired positions (the luminaries lining the walk above at left all 2 feet apart), and then insert tea lights or battery-operated LEDs.
Bright Idea! For a twist, use a hole punch to create snowflake patterns, or adhere letter-shaped stickers spelling out a holiday message such as "NOEL" or "CHEERS" to the bags. (Safety note: Never leave luminaries unattended, and extinguish the flames when finished.)
Roll Out a Spirited Drink Cart
We asked event planner and Arkansas native Bronson van Wyck, creator of Arrowhead Farms cocktail mixers, to help us stock the ultimate Southern bar cart. Follow his simple tips to raising a glass in style.
1 Have cheese straws at the ready. Click here for our favorite recipes.
2 Include fresh flowers. Click here for our favorite holiday arrangements.
3 Leave your mark. Wooden monogram stir sticks, $94.95 for 200; monogrammerchant.com.
4 Skip the paper napkins. Holiday-ready tartan linens, $100 for 4; theholidayworkshop.com
5 Opt for vintage wares. Mismatched vintage create a storied display (1stdibs.com for similar styles).
6 Serve Southern staples. This cart features Elmer T. Lee bourbon (Kentucky), Corsair gin (Tennessee), Jack Rudy tonic (South Carolina), and Bronson's Hellfire Club Bloody Mary Mix (arrowheadfarms.com).
Pick a Tree, Any Christmas Tree
When it comes to growing Fraser firs, aka the Cadillac of Christmas trees, western North Carolina has serious chops. It's the nation's undisputed Christmas tree capital with nearly a quarter of all trees sold coming from this mountainous area. You can also branch out and try one of these regional traditions.
Whiskey Barrel Tree Jack Daniel's in Lynchburg, Tennessee, offers one of the most notable. (jackdaniels.com)
Singing Christmas Tree In its 81st year, Belhaven University's Singing Tree in Jackson, Mississippi, is the country's oldest. (belhaven.edu)
Crab Pot Tree In recent years, an entrepreneurial fisherman's prelit version has really caught on. ($34.99 and up; crabpottrees.com)
Ride the Pink Pig
Only in the South does a pig signify the start of the holidays. In 1953, Priscilla, a sow-shaped train more commonly called "The Pink Pig," made its debut at Rich's department store in Atlanta. Each holiday season the one-of-a-kind rail wound its way through the store's vast toy department and became synonymous with Christmas in The Big Peach. Today, Priscilla is still making Atlantans squeal with delight as part of the lavish holiday display at Macy's (Lenox Square Mall). macys.com
Try a Signature Gift Wrap
We love brown paper packages tied up with string, but personalized paper is our new favorite thing. Make your mark with the Chic Monogram Wrap, from Minted. $15 for 5 sheets; minted.com
Master the Art of the Holiday Newsletter
Six tips for writing the annual Christmas card update, with a little help from the never-at-a-loss-for-words Scarlett O'Hara. Click here to view Scarlett's tips.
Build the Ultimate Gingerbread House
At Southern Living, we go big at Christmastime. Enter this 2- x 4-foot gingerbread reproduction of our 2013 Idea House. To create it, we turned to Rebecca Clerget, pastry chef at The Fairmont Washington D.C., Georgetown, where she constructs elaborate holiday gingerbread displays and also hosts classes on building cookie abodes (fairmont.com/washington).
Her advice? A good house starts with a template (use cardboard pieces the shape of each wall to trace dough before baking), but then it's all about the whimsical details. Check out the full gingerbread house and learn how to build your own.
Make a Mason Jar Snow Globe
Canners and crafters rejoice! We found the craft of the season!
South Carolina honors native son and the plant's namesake, Joel Poinsett, with a monthlong festival in Sumter. If you can't make the trip, pay homage to the plant's roots anyway by displaying 'Winter Rose Red' (pictured here).
Sing a Southern Carol
Oh, what fun it is to croon a Christmas tune penned by Southerners. Good thing some of the best come from these parts: "Blue Christmas" (Texas), "I Wonder as I Wander" (North Carolina), and "Jingle Bells" (Georgia).
Have a Santa Sighting
They do exist! Each year Ole Saint Nick gets a little help from The Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas (aorbsinc.com), headquartered in Georgetown, Kentucky, and led by president Nicholas Trolli. (Yep, Nick's his real name.) Imposters, take heed: Sporting a 100% authentic white beard is requisite for membership in this elite group. The 700-Santas-strong organization meets biannually, once in October for a toy forecast and for a grand convention each spring, where they brush up on their Kris Kringle curriculum, such as story-telling, magic tricks, and the art of making a grand entrance. (Spoiler alert: Jingle bells always steal the show.)
Enjoy a Progressive Dinner
Progressive dinners (meals with each course in a different location) serve up the very best of a Southern Christmas: food, fellowship, and miles of decorations. Reserve a spot at one of these favorites from around the South.
Cape Charles, Virginia. Guides guests to Victorian homes via a luminary-lit path. northamptoncountychamber.com
Charleston, South Carolina. Transports attendees to three historic hotels via horse-drawn carriage (including the John Rutledge House Inn, shown here). circa1886.com
Jonesborough, Tennessee. Spotlights five historic venues, usually closed to the public, in the state's oldest town. heritageall.org
Murfreesboro, North Carolina. Entertains with live classical music between the 13 stops. murfreesboronc.org
Seek Out Snow
Each year snow-starved Southerners find their way to Atlanta's "Snow Mountain." With five football fields worth of snow, it's the South's largest man-made winter wonderland. stonemountainpark.com
Try a Southern Delicacy
In the South, holiday fare goes far beyond traditional baked ham and pecan pie, beloved as those may be. Here, three winter favorites unique to our region.
Lowcounty Oyster Roasts Bowens Island Restaurant in Charleston hosts roasts all season. 843/795-2757
Delta Tamales You'll find them dished out in private homes and roadside stands, like Scott's Hot Tamales in Greenville, Mississippi. 662/335-1737
New Orleans Réveillon Dinners Restaurants in New Orleans, such as Arnaud's (arnaudsrestaurant.com), participate in the tradition by offering prix fixe Réveillon menus.
Revere the Silent Night
Let these words from "Amazing Peace," by Maya Angelou, inspire you to take time to savor the stillness this season.
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.
It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground...