Southern holiday dinners are delicious, but they can also be predictable. You can usually expect turkey and dressing or ham or maybe both. In this week's commentary, Salvation South editor Chuck Reece turns the tables on the predictable Southern Christmas dinner. 

Fried Shrimp
Credit: Adobe Stock


Chuck Reece - Salvation South: Santa Claus will make his rounds on a Saturday night this year. That means that folks all over the South will lay out their huge Christmas dinner on Sunday. You've probably already planned yours — and if not, good luck at the grocery store.

Now, for planning purposes, I Googled this phrase: the perfect Southern Christmas dinner. Now, the No. 1 hit came from a venerable Southern magazine which, two months ago, published a piece ranking the best Southern Christmas foods of all time. So let's run down their list from one to 12: sugar cookies, roasted beef tenderloin, mashed potatoes, cheddar cheese straws, macaroni and cheese, cornbread dressing, layer cakes, just plain cornbread, ambrosia, baked ham, eggnog and fruitcake. Now, I can't quibble with any of that; I would happily gobble all of those things down at a holiday dinner. But I have always been a bit of a contrarian, so I started thinking: How might one throw a monkey wrench into Christmas dinner? I mean, what would we eat if we weren't cooking all the standard stuff?

So, I made a brief menu of equally beloved Southern foods for a contrarian's Christmas dinner. Here goes.

Number one: fried shrimp. These little crustaceans grow abundantly along the Southern shorelines, and they are at their best when they are battered and fried and dipped in tartar sauce. They're also very filling, which means you won't need both the ham and the turkey. Shrimp meat alone will suffice.

Or, number two: fried chicken. You seeing a trend here? In most Southern kitchens, Christmas is a time for meats roasted in the oven. You don't typically see a lot of fried stuff, but what person of Southern raising turns down fried chicken — or, as I just pointed out, fried shrimp? Just imagine, what if you did fried chicken and shrimp for Christmas? I'd just die and go to heaven.

Number three: collard greens and black-eyed peas. Yes, I know these are traditional at the Southern dinner that happens one week later on New Year's Day. But think about it this way: Did you ever cook a mess of greens and peas that got finished on the day you cook them? No. So just cook up a big bunch, eat them on Christmas and freeze what's left for a week. It's a big labor saver.

And number four: pound cake. A pound each of butter, sugar, eggs and flour. And all four pounds will be on your body after you eat it.

And there you have it. A Southern contrarian's holiday dinner. Will I make this at home? Probably not. But I sure had a good time thinking about it. And I hope you did, too.

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Salvation South editor Chuck Reece comments on Southern culture and values in a weekly segment that airs Fridays at 7:45 a.m. during Morning Edition and 4:44 p.m. during All Things Considered on GPB Radio. You can also find them here at and now on your favorite podcast platforms as well.