How to host Thanksgiving the Southern way, according to real, live Southerners

A Fall-themed table setting in a corn field.

When it comes to good old-fashioned hospitality and finger-licking delicious cuisine, no place does it quite like the American South. So it’s only natural we’d want to include some of the South’s finest qualities into our next Thanksgiving meal, especially considering how low-key last year’s quarantine feast was.

To find out how to get that Southern style no matter where you live, we consulted two of Georgia’s finest entertainers—Houses & Parties founder Rebecca Gardner, based in Savannah, and 12 Cocktail Bar barman Jarrett Holborough in Atlanta. And butter my biscuit, did they deliver! Read on for their most cherished Southern Thanksgiving traditions, which ones they could do without, and how you can host a proper Southern-inspired Thanksgiving, too. (Then check out our delicious Thanksgiving invitations and eat up!)

Before you finalize your Thanksgiving party planning and start going rogue with your Thanksgiving party decor, read on. 


Left: Rebecca Gardner arranging table settings. Right: Jarrett Holborough sitting in a velvet chair.

Photo credits: Houses & Parties and Daniel M. Photography


The best part of Thanksgiving is

I set the table all day long, so my favorite parts of Thanksgiving are planning the menu, shopping for groceries, and making a mess in the kitchen. My brother, Peyton, and I do it all together. He gets upset when I use butter and cream, so I get up earlier and prep in unsuspecting containers.

Being around family and friends and enjoying good food and drinks.

Every Southern Thanksgiving needs 

A Southern Thanksgiving wouldn’t be truly Southern without bourbon. I like to make Earl Grey Bourbon Punch, which is a very old “Bon Appetit” recipe. Then I make everyone wear a turkey hat with the drumsticks over each ear. (By the way, the bourbon tastes best in sterling julep cups). 

You need some real traditional Southern Thanksgiving food, like fried turkey and cornbread, but in my household we also twist it up a bit. I am half Antiguan, so there will typically be some jerk pork on our table. It’s important that everyone always has what makes both them and their guests the happiest. 


A Pumpkin chiffon pie surrounded by baking props.

Photo credit: Bon Appetit


Their favorite Thanksgiving traditions

My grandmother made the most delicious pumpkin chiffon pie, and my great aunt was famous for her sour cherry. So my cousin and I make both every year in honor of each sister. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll never touch another slice of regular pumpkin pie again.

My favorite tradition is watching football with my entire family, and just being thankful for all that we have. 

A Thanksgiving tradition that could use an update

Does anyone really like turkey? That huge carcass kind of grosses me out. I say we leave the turkey for sandwiches the next day and roast a chicken for Thanksgiving.

I think the drink portion could use an update. I usually just drink spirits neat or on the rocks for Thanksgiving, but this year I’ll be making a lovely rye whiskey punch.


Jarrett Holborough holding a cocktail surrounded by cocktail props.

Photo credit: Jose Pereiro, @thecocktailshaker_


Something hosts should consider this year (and beyond)

Every holiday is better with parlor games and party hats. How about party crackers with prompts inside, like “Do your best Mick Jagger” or “Pretend you’re on QVC and sell something on the table?” 

I think all hosts should consider having both Thanksgiving cocktails and a mocktail option. I have a lot of family members who drink, and some who do not—so I always want to make sure everyone can have fun at the function. 

Every Thanksgiving needs plenty of


Mac and cheese! Definitely my favorite dish. 


Rebecca Gardner sitting in a chair with plate props.

Photo credit: Houses & Parties


Always get creative with your Thanksgiving table setting 

This is a family affair—use the best for your family. Make an effort. And then, add something silly. You’re grandmother’s favorite Andes mints, your brother’s childhood G.I. Joes. You know.

A cocktail that’ll knock their socks off  

My newest creation, Pratt’s Punch. Here’s the recipe: 

2 oz Michter’s Rye Whiskey
1 oz Lemon juice
1 oz Mint syrup
1/2 oz Carpano Classico
1/4 oz Chinola
Ginger beer 

Add all ingredients except the ginger beer into a Boston shaker. Add ice, shake, and strain into a Collins glass over ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a mint sprig and a piece of candied ginger. 


From left: “Vine Labyrinth” by Paperless Post, “Friendly Foxes” by Happy Menocal for Paperless Post, “Pumpkin Pie” by The Indigo Bunting for Paperless Post, “Dig In” by Paperless Post, “Harvest Floral” by Rifle Paper Co. for Paperless Post, “Turkey Feathers” by Crate & Barrel for Paperless Post


Ready to host your Thanksgiving like a true Southerner? Grab your turkey hat and pick out the perfect Thanksgiving invitation to get your loved ones together now. (Can’t feast together this year? Send a Thanksgiving greeting card instead.)


From Left: Houses & Parties, Chil & Co., Daniel M. Photography, Houses & Parties


Browse Thanksgiving Invitations


Hero image photo credit: Houses & Parties