Friday, December 14, 2012

Southern Holiday Traditions

When picturing Christmas scenery, the first thing to come to mind may be a snow-covered house up North.  Many people don't know that Christmas actually caught on in the Southern states first!  The South, which was more open to European influences, embraced the holiday before the more Puritanical Northern states.  Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas were the first to make Christmas a legal holiday in the 1830s.  Finally, in 1870, President Grant declared Christmas a national legal holiday.  By this time, many of the South's Christmas traditions had spread and have become deeply rooted in the way we celebrate.  Here are a few of our Southern traditions- some you may recognize, and a few you may like to start!


Magnolia Wreaths: When the Pilgrims arrived in Jamestown, they noticed that the magnolia tree is an evergreen.  From there, they began incorporating the symbolic flower into their Christmas decor. This beautiful plant is still traditionally used to deck the halls in the deep South.

A Single Candle in Each Window: This tradition was begun by the Irish and they brought it with them to Colonial Williamsburg. This sentiment demonstrates loyalty to loved ones who are not present in the home.

Citrus: Currently, we are able to enjoy fresh fruit almost any time we would like.  In the old days, however, that was not the case.  Having citrus in the off-season was a luxury that only the very rich could afford.  Therefore, children would eagerly await to receive citrus in their stocking on Christmas morning.  Citrus eventually became a big part of Southern holiday decor.  It is hung on Christmas trees and weaved into garland.  Cloves are also pushed into the citrus as a form of decor that is a treat for the eyes and the nose.

Poinsettia: This festive plant is unofficially recognized as the traditional flower of Christmas. Few people know, however, that this flower was first introduced into the United States by a man from Charleston, South Carolina:  Joel Robert Poinsett, the first United States minister to Mexico in 1825.  The poinsettia was a traditional Christmas decoration in Mexico, which he chose to carry back with him.

Food and Beverage

Oysters: December brings brisker weather and cooler water to the South, creating the perfect conditions for the best oysters.  For this reason, oysters are a common dish on a Southern table during the holidays.  Oyster dressing is a staple in many a home, but you'll also see them steamed, smoked, scalloped, on the half shell or even in a creamy stew!

Deep-fried Turkey: It's no secret that we love our fried food in the deep South, and we'll take any chance we get to make our meal a little extra crispy.  Deep frying a turkey in peanut oil gives that extra crunch while leaving the inside juicy- a perfect combination! This culinary masterpiece began here and has been steadily growing in popularity with our Northern and Western neighbors.

Pecans: Pecan trees are native to the South and were considered a delicacy in Colonial times.  We'll take our pecans in any form when it comes to holiday dishes- baked into cakes, pressed into cookies, sprinkled on salads and, of course, the famous pecan pie!

George Washington Egg Nog: Egg Nog is a Christmas tradition for most of the country, but here in the South the best recipe comes from none other than Virginia-bred George Washington himself.  He had his own special recipe that he would serve in the Presidential Mansion.  Today, this old recipe is still served in the South.

Superstitions and Stories

If you let your fireplace go out on Christmas morning, evil spirits will come.

If you wash and iron a new garment before gifting it at Christmas, you will wash out good luck and press in bad luck.

An old Southern story tells of Robert E. Lee, General in the Confederate Army, meeting Santa Claus.  According to the tale, 3 little girls wrote the General a letter.  They told him how Santa had not been to see them in 3 years and were wondering if it was because Santa didn't love them or if it was because the General asked him not to cross the border lines.  General Lee wrote back and told them that on the first Christmas Eve of the war, he was walking through the camp when suddenly he saw Santa riding above him in the air.  When he told Santa that he could go no further South, Santa was very unhappy at the idea of disappointing the children of the Confederacy.  So the General told him to take the toys, sell them and use the money to buy clothing, medicine and food for the weary soldiers.  Santa did as he was ordered and the soldiers were comforted, thanks to the sacrifice of the little children.  (Read the full story here.)

Plantation Resort is a great place to spend the holidays and immerse yourself in the culture of the South.  We hope this Christmas is full of your favorite traditions- and that maybe you'll try a few of ours, too!

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