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Black Thanksgiving Heritage: Thanksgiving Traditions in the Gulf Coast

Black Thanksgiving Heritage: Thanksgiving Traditions in the Gulf Coast

Thanksgiving Day is right around the corner and families all across America are excited, and they are planning their holiday meal and family activities.  Some will travel by plane, train, or automobile to visit their relatives.  Last year, many people in the United States skipped annual in-person holiday gatherings.  So, this year, Thanksgiving may have more meaning than ever before, due to many people getting vaccinated and reuniting with their family for the first time in two years.  

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to be thankful and appreciative of who you have (your family and friends) in your life, and what you have (a roof over your head, food on your table, clothes on your back).  It’s also a great time for families to spend quality time together and enjoy each other’s company.  Thanksgiving is the time of year where some people follow family traditions, while others may be creating new traditions.  Either way, Thanksgiving tends to bring families closer together and allows them an opportunity to spend quality time together and come together over a good ole’ Thanksgiving meal.   

Black Southern Belle was able to catch up with three families in the Gulf Coast area to share their annual family traditions. 

Ava Lee Moore – New Orleans, Louisiana

Ava Lee Moore and Sons

Family Traditions

Family traditions are gathering at my mother’s home for a large home-cooked meal. Now, that she has passed, I’ve continued that tradition with my children as we gather at my home for Thanksgiving dinner.

Memories – Growing Up

I remember the holidays growing up as being excited with anticipation for all the good food and company.  It was a time that my grandmother, aunts, and cousins would visit. We had a family of excellent cooks, so there was always a great southern creole meal prepared.  My mother assigned duties to me and my five sisters.  Some had to cut the vegetables, some peel potatoes for potato salad and sweet potatoes.  Others cleaned the house to make it warm and welcoming for guests.  The scents of the house and turkey in the oven woke you in the early morning.  I loved having to taste different dishes to see if there was enough salt and seasoning!! 

Today, my thanksgiving meal consists of the same things my mother’s meals consisted of.  You start with a bowl of seafood gumbo and rice.  Next, you have turkey, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, cranberry sauce, stuffed mirliton, greens, oyster stuffing, candied yams, and a ham glazed with pineapples and cherries on the side!

My holiday guest usually consists of 5-10 people depending on the year.  The typical guest are my three sons and now my daughter-in-law has joined our family.  I have a new beautiful grandson, and he will be having his first Thanksgiving this year with her parents and Christmas with them, and the new year with me!  Occasionally, my aunt, her son, her daughter with her husband, and two kids join me as well.

Favorite Dish

My favorite dish to cook is stuffed mirlitons because it was one of the exquisite dishes that my mother cooked, and I felt so good when I mastered the recipe.  All of my sons have now mastered a dish and prepare it annually.  With one cooking the macaroni and cheese, the other oyster stuffing, and the other candied yams. I thought it was important for them to learn how to cook, especially traditional family dishes. 

Describe Thanksgiving Day

A typical Thanksgiving day for me is to wake up early and wash and season the turkey and put it in the oven in a Reynolds cooking bag.  It gets the house smelling really good like it did when I was growing up.  My sons love it the same way that I did and it draws them straight to the kitchen to the pots when they wake up to get a taste of what’s cooking.  Once the turkey is in the oven, I peel the potatoes and get them boiling. I like fresh greens, so I clean them and put them in a large pot to cook slowly.  I like fresh cranberries. So I boil them and prepare and put the cranberry sauce in the freezer.  Now that my sons are all grown and live away, the one who is local prepares the mac and cheese and brings it over.  The one who prepares the stuffing flies in, goes out to purchase his ingredients and gets up early to share the kitchen with me to cook.  The other son lives farther away in California and alternates with his family between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  But when he’s home he jumps in the mix and prepares his sweet potatoes.  Now that he lives in California, he cooks Gumbo for his wife’s family for Thanksgiving and contributes that to their meal.  From there, everything else begins to flow, and I have a usual order that I follow for cooking each item, with mirlitons coming near the end, after potato salad. 

It’s always a fun day with shared cooking that ends with a delightful meal around 4 pm served on our favorite China, with ice tea or sparkling cider and apple pie a la mode for dessert.  We end up on the couch, recliner and chairs in the den after the meal talking, watching tv, sleeping, and then eating again!  And, somehow the leftovers I have the next morning taste even better.  I always make turkey salad with the remaining turkey, and we love homemade turkey salad sandwiches!

Mary Gates & Siblings

Mary Gates –  Pensacola, Florida

Family Traditions for the Thanksgiving Holiday

We went to our grandparents house, Momma Gates house, to have dinner.  We would have turkey, dressing, ham, macaroni and cheese, corn bread, and collard greens.  She  would cook Pecan Pies and Sweet Potatoes Pies, too.  

My  grandmomma did all the cooking.  She didn’t allow anyone to help her.  We didn’t go over to my grandmother’s house until the dinner was done.  She didn’t want us to help.  She cooked everything including cakes and pies.  We helped her set the table and wash dishes. 

Mary Gates

Memories – Growing Up

She brought out her china for Thanksgiving. That was the only day she let us eat on her China.  She brought out her good plates. We use to go over her house every Sunday.  All my cousins would come from out-of-town.  It would be about 25-30 people.  When we were little, all the kids would play baseball.  The girls against the boys.  Once we grew up, we kept going to my grandparents house, but my cousins stop coming as they got older.  After Momma Gates died, we went to my momma’s house for dinner.  

I make a Pound Cake, Sweet Potatoe Pies and Apple Pies.  I bake everyone a Sweet Potatoe Pie and let them take it home.  My kids and grandkids have special requests like, Ajaia wants yams, Michelle wants banana pudding, Bird wants macaroni and cheese.  Some of my sibblings bring a dish and other bring sodas and other little things.  Bird brings the macaroni and cheese.  Most of the dinner is on me, and I’ll cook and everybody just come over.  We eat late. You know how Black folks is.  We eat around 2 or 3 pm.

When my grandparents died, my  mom started having dinner at her house.  My other grandmother didn’t cook.  I started cooking Sunday dinner before my mom died, so my mom stopped cooking and everyone started coming to my house.

When we got older, I started hosting Thanksgiving at my house.  I kept the same menu as my grandmother except the Pecan Pie.  I started making Apple Pies and Sweet Potato pies.  My kids didn’t like Pecan Pie either.  My family consists of my kids, my siblings, nieces and nephews.  Usually everybody come through.

After dinner we play games like “Family Feud”, dominoes, checkers or bingo.

Favorite Dishes 

My favorite dishes are the cornbread dressing.  I make my own cornbread dressing.  Gumbo is also a tradition of mine.  My son, Marcus, loves Gumbo, so I usually make one when he comes home.  I only put chicken and shrimp in my Gumbo.

How you spend your Thanksgiving Holiday

We still play Family Feud and the other games that we played growing up like dominoes, checkers or bingo.

Dr. Laura Louis

Dr. Laura Louis – Pensacola, Florida (now resides in Atlanta)  

Family Traditions for the Thanksgiving Holiday

One of my family traditions is we all come together and have a family dinner around 3 pm.  Having a meal midday and pray over the meal and have southern christian values.

Each person makes a dish.  Everybody usually just make the dish that they make best.  My dad makes the best potato salad on the planet, and my uncle, he makes Sweet Potatoe Pies for everyone and everyone gets to take one home.

Describe how you remember the holidays growing up…

I remember a lot of warmth, a lot of love and because I am a child of a blended family, I have Thanksgiving twice.  I have  Thanksgiving with my  mother’s side of the family and then my father’s side of the family.

Another tradition, we all take a plate home.  It’s enough food for everyone to take a plate home.  It would be multiple plates.  Taking a cake plate and a food plate.  We like to eat! We also all sit around and watch football. It’s a great bonding time for the family.

Thanksgiving Meal

We usually have collard greens, cornbread dressing, turkey, ham, mac & cheese, and potato salad.  We are really big on the sweets.  Sweet Potatoe Pies… My husband’s family is in Haiti.  Normally, we go to Haiti once per year.  When we go all the family come over and they make the Caribbean dishes.  It’s like they are anticipating our arrival.  They come to town and from the country.

Favorite Dishes

I usually make collard greens.  I season them up with pickled peppers and hot sauce.  I use bacon and neckbones in my collard greens to bring the flavor to the greens.  I like the regular collard greens. 

Holiday Tips

One of the things I like is to start early.  I start cooking on Wednesday.  Since everyone is making a dish, we are in the kitchen at different times.

Anything else..

As a psychologist, it’s best to have support and help going through the holidays and planning and preparation so you don’t get overwhelmed.  Sometimes the  holidays are sad for people, so plan and prepare coping strategies.  Plan early.  Getting support and make sure all the preparation isn’t  falling on one person and making sure you have support preparing dishes.  And, the whole weight isn’t falling on one person.

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