Home for the Holidays

How the South Celebrates the Holidays

Get ready to master your Bloody Mary bar and perfect Grandma’s treasured recipes—creating our own comfort and joy now means more than ever

That’s the Spirit

Embracing the beauty of the tangled origins of our holiday rites and routines

By Guy Martin

Diana Bolton

Out east of town, my father and grandfather had land that had been cleared for pasture at some colonial moment, but was now tattooed with trees so inexplicably random that their seed could only have been incubated in some grazing deer’s gut or shat out by birds down for a breather from the flyway. The stands included some evergreens, whose haphazard taint was one reason everybody had ignored that section.

Home from school one holiday break with nothing better to do than drive around town looking for different combinations of trouble, my brothers and I thought we’d give the Christmas tree an even more homemade aspect by cruising what there was of that crazy-man timber and cutting our own. Why buy the damn thing when you had them growing out back, was the thought, but as I read it now, the impulse was a barely laudable and largely vain attempt at home-front holiday decommercialization. With an ax.

>Read the full essay

Best of the Brunch

By Haskell Harris

Bronson van Wyck takes the hair of the dog to new heights

Photo: Stephen Karlisch

Bronson van Wyck covers antlers with gold foil to create a table accent.

Art-directing over-the-top parties for clients ranging from rapper Sean Combs to Chanel is all in a day’s work for the event designer Bronson van Wyck and his team. He’s just as focused on the details, though, when it comes to celebrating at home with his family in Tuckerman, Arkansas. On Christmas morning, for instance, “the Bloody Mary bar is always fully stocked first thing,” he says. Naturally, the setup is an event unto itself, with plenty of tartan, silver, crystal, taxidermy, and vodka. Van Wyck’s recipe for the cocktail zings, too, with a trifecta of salty, spicy, and sweet flavors from ingredients such as olive juice, serrano peppers, and brown sugar. “The best way to serve a Bloody is by allowing guests to make their own,” van Wyck adds. “It’s so much fun to curate an assortment of unexpected garnishes: Peppadew peppers, dried citrus, bacon, shrimp, even oysters.” Despite the pandemic, van Wyck has many reasons for clinking glasses this season, including his recent book on entertaining, Born to Party, Forced to Work, and  his new online holiday shop. “The most important thing, especially this year, is to have fun and not make things too formal,” he says. “Mix your punch bowls and trays and julep cups. Each piece has a story behind it, and the more Bloody Marys you drink, the more interesting the stories.”

>Get the recipe

Photo: william hereford

Van Wyck’s Lab, Cat, watches over a Bloody Mary bar loaded with garnishes such as pickled okra, grilled shrimp, fresh dill, and bacon.


The Past as a Present

Mariana Barran de Goodall pays tribute to her Mexican roots with cookies and crafting

Wheat flour, a bit of shortening, Mexican brown sugar, and milk. “It’s simple and tasty and good year-round,” says Mariana Barran de Goodall of her recipe for gorditas de azúcar, or sugar tortillas. Goodall founded the embroidery company Hibiscus Linens in Houston; the Hotel Amparo in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; and a new venture: the shop Amparo Fine Living in Birmingham, Alabama. But the gorditas de azúcar, the shortbread-like hojarascas, and the cuernitos de azúcar, or Mexican wedding cookies, she prepares every year as part of her holiday customs go back generations in her family in Monterrey, Mexico, where she grew up. That tradition also includes painting delicate papier-mâché ornaments featuring a multicolored array of flowers, swirls, and other doodles. “Usually we gather the Saturday before Christmas, and everyone we love is invited.” Papier-mâché can be messy and time-consuming, so Goodall usually makes the round shapes ahead of time and leaves the painting for the party, adding layers of white paper over the traditional newsprint, “so any color of paint looks like the color you want it to look.” But for Goodall, even if the paint smears, it’s really about remembering where she comes from. “I believe things made by hand carry good wishes,” she says. “I am in a different country than my parents, and carrying this idea to my new home makes me feel connected to my heritage.”—H.H.

Photo: julie soefer

Mariana Barran de Goodall paints ornaments in the courtyard of Hotel Amparo in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (center); Mexican wedding cookies in progress.

Holidays on the Wing

Chasing calm on a neighborhood bird-watching stroll

By Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Diana Bolton

Ever since my younger son could toddle, my family has taken holiday walks along a small lake edged in shore grass and slash pines—an ideal spot for bird-watching—near my parents’ house in Central Florida. On those days when we’re visiting them between Christmas and New Year’s, we can usually don shorts and sandals, even if the neighborhood palm trees are weighted down with Christmas lights and inflatable Santas, softly whirring alive. One of us might carry a pair of binoculars, and because my husband and I are writers, a pencil and a small notebook come along, too. We may find anhingas—those long-necked snakebirds sunning themselves on oak trees—sandhill cranes, egrets, ibis, and killdeers. And if we’re lucky, the purple gallinule, whose bright plumage looks like he’s ready for a party.

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The Pig at Christmas

In Eastern North Carolina, a beloved grocery store goes all out

By Vivian Howard

Diana Bolton

The Piggly Wiggly at Jackson Heights sits in a rural enclave between Deep Run and Kinston. It’s the least fancy store I know, but it casts a country Christmas spell over me that starts in the parking lot with that all-American symbol of commerce and Christmas: the Salvation Army bell ringer, flanked by Fraser firs and wreaths whose fuller, shinier cousins found their way to a Whole Foods in Raleigh. Behind the trees, the Pig’s windows dance with snow-sprayed images of stout Santas, cheerful snowmen, and red-nosed reindeer. I like to imagine an elderly artist spraying these scenes on the day after Thanksgiving, but I suspect they are actually big stickers. I’ve never asked. I just choose to believe.

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Toast to Tradition

Colorful accents hold the key to Stephanie Summerson Hall’s lively gatherings 

Photo: lindsey shorter

Stephanie Summerson Hall mingles her Estelle Colored Glass stemware with pieces of family china.

When the Holly Hill, South Carolina, native Stephanie Summerson Hall’s grandmother Estelle died, she left each of her granddaughters vintage glassware from her rainbow-hued collection—vessels that inspire Hall’s own holiday tabletop today. “The ones I remember most were her browns and greens,” she says. “So I chose a few of  the emerald pieces—my favorite color.” As a child, Hall often accompanied her grandmother on vintage buying trips, which made her parting gift all the more meaningful. Still, when Hall attempted to expand her personal glassware collection, she found it difficult to complete a full set of any given color. So she created her own line, Estelle Colored Glass, in 2019, and dreamed up wine glasses, coupes, and cake stands in candy-colored lavender, pale pink, and mint, as well as deeper shades such as amber (and green, of course), all produced in Poland, a country known for its glassmaking artisans. Around the holidays, Hall suggests mixing new and old pieces to add personality to a table setting, and insists that bright glassware can work just as well for a diehard minimalist as it does for a pattern-crazed maximalist. “Color makes people happy,” she says.  “That’s universal.”—H.H.

Photo: lindsey shorter

Select pieces from Estelle Colored Glass are available at Garden & Gun’s Fieldshop.


Rings of Plenty

Mandy O’Shea’s festive wreaths showcase the bounty of her Georgia farm

Mandy O’Shea’s wreaths echo the free-spirited centerpieces, bouquets, garlands, and boutonnieres she and her husband, Steve, piece together for weddings and parties through their Georgia firm, 3 Porch Farm. Luckily, the floral designer and flower farmer’s home in Comer provides an abundant harvest of source material, both cultivated and wild. 

>Read more about the cover wreath

Photo: Ali Harper

From left: Mandy O’Shea at her 3 Porch Farm flower studio, working with lunaria, cypress, juniper, and holly berries; Evergreens such as juniper and cypress, along with the likes of blackberry lily seedpods and eucalyptus branches, were incorporated into this wreath; O’Shea secures evergreens to a scuppernong vine base.

Slice of History

A surprising butternut squash pie binds a family of cooks

By Amethyst Ganaway

Johnny autry | Food Styling by Charlotte Autry

Commercials full of smiling families celebrating generations of traditions have always made me a bit envious during the holidays. My family can’t trace our lineage much past my Delta-born great-grandmother, an unfortunate reality for many folks in the African American diaspora. Watching my friends bounce from house to house, collecting plates of food and loving memories of extended family, always sparks a little jealousy, too. But I’ve found peace as I’ve gotten older and realized that my family, albeit very small, has created our own traditions to indulge in—including, come fall and winter, my grandmother’s butternut squash pies.

>Read the full essay

>Get the recipe

Tropical Touch

In lieu of ornaments, G. Blake Sams opts for dozens of living orchids

After many seasons of decorating other people’s homes for the holidays, in addition to orchestrating all manner of soirees, the Charleston, South Carolina, and New York City event designer G. Blake Sams started his own tradition: an orchid tree. “I just didn’t want to do something out of another box with glitter on it,” he says. Nature was his muse, as it is for many Southerners. “The beautiful, lush landscape of the South is something to celebrate,” Sams says. “And I love the way orchids grow hanging in the air from tree limbs, so I thought it was a great way to add vibrancy.” Sams advises gently shaking out the orchid root systems, then soaking them in water before attaching each specimen to a limb with a bit of bond wire. A regular misting keeps them perky. Sams also champions natural greenery. “Any room can be brought to life by placing overscale greens and garlands to add drama”—he buys them from Weston Farms, in North Carolina. “To say things are different now is an understatement,” he says of this unprecedented year. “But it also allows me to do what I find the most rewarding: create intimate, meaningful gatherings.”—H.H. 

Photo: margaret houston

From left: G. Blake Sams uses orange vanda orchids, assorted ferns, and angel vine to make a tree pop; Sams with his tree in his downtown Charleston home.