December 22, 2015 • CULTURE

Have a Very Southern Christmas



Reese’s family Christmas tree with son Tennessee (getting an early start on the unwrapping!) in the forefront.

From door-to-door caroling to parties awash in eggnog to the requisite annual pilgrimage to watch the local Nutcracker performance, there are plenty of all-American Christmas traditions.

Yet as with most things, the South has its own unique ways celebrating—some regional and some state-specific. 

Santa knows he’s landed at a Southerner’s house when he has to keep his reindeer from eating the huge bowl of ambrosia on the table. Luckily, they’ll be easily distracted by the rolled out sugar cookies (another Southern specialty) to really miss indulging in this fruit salad made from pineapple, oranges, coconut, and a heaping dose of marshmallows. 

Oysters figure prominently into Southern Christmas, too. Oyster dressing, scalloped oysters, smoked oysters, steamed oysters and oysters on the half shell are all December delicacies below the Mason-Dixon Line.

And let’s not forget pecans—from pralines to pie, you’ll find them everywhere this time of year. 

The magnolia wreath and the single candle in the window—both among the South’s favorite Christmas decorations—can trace their roots to Colonial Williamsburg.

Early settlers made use of magnolia leaves as a substitute for other evergreen boughs, and the candles symbolized loyalty to loved ones who couldn’t make it home for the holidays.

In Louisiana, folks from Baton Rouge to New Orleans light Christmas Eve bonfires up and down the levee to light the way for Père Noel and his flying reindeer. Locals set up tailgate-esque feasts and wander back and forth to different fire sites so they can snack, drink, and visit with loved ones.

Floridians celebrate their warm climate and easy access to water with scads of annual boat parades. Boat owners festoon their vessels with twinkle lights and take a sail around the harbor, much to the delight of those observing from dry land. Some cities even decorate their lifeguard stands. 

For over fifty years, Georgians young and old have flocked to the Lenox Square Mall in Atlanta for a ride on the Pink Pig. Priscilla, as she is also known, is a porcine holiday tram that tours the pop-up Winter Wonderland inside Macy’s. 

The picturesque Outer Banks of North Carolina didn’t get the news about the 1752 switch to the Gregorian calendar for decades, so they continued celebrating Christmas on the day they always had—January 6th. “Old Christmas” is still observed even today, with community parties, oyster shoots, and the arrival of Old Buck, a rowdy bull who plays pranks.

Some forgotten Southern Christmas traditions have been revived in recent years: In some Texas towns, you’ll hear a Christmas morning serenade. A cousin of more traditional caroling, this cowboy tradition has one true aim–ruckus-making! 

In the heavily Scotch-Irish parts of rural West Virginia, residents have revived the long-faded mummers’ plays of late, performing short, funny scenes for gifts and money.

Regardless of how you celebrate with your family, there’s one thing all Southerners agree on: We don’t miss the snow!