- Nov 26, 2016
- central NC
It seems the phrase “Southern hospitality” wasn’t used until the 1820s or 1830s, when national debates about slavery intensified. For many, the idea of “Southern hospitality” became a way of defending the Southern lifestyle and a political system that depended on slavery. Even today, “Southern hospitality” continues to create a sense of solidarity and belonging among many Southerners.
The term, “Southern hospitality” is attributed to journalist, Jacob Abbott. While traveling through the South in 1835, he coined the term “Southern hospitality” to describe the way people opened their homes and shared whatever food and drink they had with travelers. Even then southern culture focused heavily on etiquette, such as “yes ma’am/no sir,” holding the door open for women and the removal of hats upon entering a home. It also focused largely on cooking and eating!
In truth, hospitality was actually an important social norm everywhere during the 19th century. Folks just viewed it differently. Many Northern progressives and abolitionists defined hospitality based on their definition of what they saw as the Biblical command to be open to differences and to welcome strangers, including runaway slaves. This led to a dilemma for some Southerners. It was easy to welcome people who were just like you, but true hospitality was (and is) inclusive.
Nowadays, “Southern hospitality” has become a tourist attraction right along with Southern food and a romanticized vision of a leisurely lifestyle. With this popularity has come some contemporary commentary claiming that “Southern hospitality” is dead or was only a myth. Perhaps these folks were looking for it in the wrong places - a bar, restaurant or hotel. That wouldn’t work because one doesn’t pay for hospitality; it is a gift, freely given just as it was in John Abbott’s time.
Do you think “Southern hospitality” is a myth? Do you think it once existed, but has faded over time? Have you experienced “Southern hospitality” firsthand? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
And by the way, y’all are welcome at my house any time. We try to never run out of ice, (adult) beverages, music and dessert.
(Southern Living Magazine)