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

An ornate room with landscape-painted walls, gold drapes, and a large chandelier with floral arrangement is set for a meal with tall taper candles, pink toil chair covers, and lots of colorful flowers.
Paperless Post BlogHolidays > How to host Thanksgiving the Southern way, according to real, live Southerners

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 in our next Thanksgiving meal—no matter where our homes fall in regards to the Mason-Dixon Line.

To find out how to get some of that signature Southern style, 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: Jarrett Holborough pours bitters into a glass cocktail mixing vessel at a marble counter with a bottle of Rye to his left. Right: Rebecca Gardner sits on a settée with a black French bulldog wearing an Elizabethan lace collar.
Images via Jarrett Holborough and Garden and Gun.


Southern hospitality means… 

Southerners entertain large. Thanksgiving usually outgrows the table. Most entertainers are accustomed to the inevitable addition of folding tables and chairs when the guest list grows last minute. We’ve fashioned slipcovers for the ballroom chairs often rented or unearthed from the garage during the holidays, so that the guests relegated to the wings feel first-rate… and that is Southern hospitality. Even better, the tablecloths are perfectly sized to drop to the floor on 8-foot folding tables. Teenagers wear the matching aprons when they’re asked to serve dessert.

Southern hospitality means spending Thanksgiving with friends and family. Bringing dishes together with beverage pairing and spending the day with the ones you love. 


Left: A Thanksgiving invitation with colorful illustrations of food items from a Thanksgiving table, plus a border on top and bottom of ornate dishes and cuttlery. Right: A woman from the neck-down stands at a table with autumnal decor wearing a red, orange, and white floral apron and black and orange floral dress under.
“Supper Club” by Paperless Post; Image via Rebecca Gardner.

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.


Left: Orange soup is poured into a bowl by someone sitting at a table, and a small tarte is on a wooden serving tray in the foreground. Right: A Friendsgiving invitation has a large slice of pumpkin pie carried by small woodland characters, above an orange envelope with plaid liner.
Image via Rebecca Gardner; “Pie Day” by Paperless Post.

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. 


My favorite Thanksgiving tradition is…

An online Friendsgiving lunch invite is orange on the left with a crossed fork and knife, and on the right is an animated wreath made of fall leaves with the words “EAT, DRINK, & GIVE THANKS.”
“Fall Wreath” Flyer by Paperless Post.


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.


Left: A pink invitation for Friendsgiving cocktails has illustrations of three autumnal pastel cocktails. Right: A bottle of Rye next to a coupe glass filled with Rye in an outdoor setting.
“Turkey Tipple” by Paperless Post; Image via Jarrett Holborough.


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. 


Always get creative with your Thanksgiving table setting 

Left: A Thanksgiving invitation has a wide border of illustrated otange, purple, pink, and green florals. Right: A woman wearing a cornucopia hat stands behind a table dripping with fruit and flowers with twisted taper candles.
“Autumn Garden Party” by Rifle Paper Co. for Paperless Post; Image via Rebecca Gardner.


This is a family affair—use the best for your family. Make an effort. And then, add something silly. Your 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. 

And remember: It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Don’t forget the after-party. Adults gather for late-night libations when the kids go down. Leftovers are brought from the fridge. Both lively cocktails and the beige food from Tupperware deserve decorum. Have enough plates and silver for replating at the ready, so that your “Stay a while” is genuine. Caviar is the perfect postlude to enjoy while the Champagne (and tryptophan)-induced guests scroll sizes too small on their phones, and men make sandwiches of dinner rolls to enjoy with bourbon.  

After I’ve spent the day with family, I head home and rest for a little. Then I change, step out again for the night, and meet some friends at one of the local bars. Since my family always cooks way too much, I definitely have some leftovers that night, and then again for the next couple of days! I think leftovers pair well with a Classic Manhattan. It’s my go-to when I’m at home, especially since I’m a huge fan of Whiskey and Vermouth!


2oz Michter’s rye
3/4oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
Barspoon demerara
4 Dashes Angostura bitters
Garnish: Lemon peel and cherry


Left: In a bar, a person’s hands hold a bottle of Ryewhile pouring a jigger of Rye into a mixing vessel. Right: A Thanksgiving invitation reads “FRIENDs, FAMILY, AND FOOD” with a border of small autumn leaves.
Image via Jarrett Holborough; “Fall Breeze” by Felix Doolittle 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.)


Browse Thanksgiving Invitations


Hero image photo credit: Houses & Parties