I can't remember where I read about cranberry sauce and its significance at our holidays. Our meals were plentiful. Bounteous feasts were served on holidays. Cooking took place over a number of days prior: hams were baked, both cured and fresh pork; and special cakes and pies. Turkeys were not as popular as hens for serving with dressing, not stuffing. We grew our own corn that was taken to mill, ground into meal, and made into cornbread for dressing. We grew our own eggs, green beans, sweet potatoes, onions and Irish potatoes. My grandmother even grew the celery that went into her dressing.
So what is the significance of canned cranberry sauce? It was a sign that we not only had a feast, but we could afford to buy canned goods that did not grow in our area. Not only cranberries graced our table, but stuffed olives as well. We could grow pimento peppers, but olives were not in our orchards, nor cranberries in our swamps.
I enjoy fresh cranberries at somebody else's table, but I always serve canned -- the whole berry kind. We eat it year 'round with chicken. Mama always bought jellied cranberry sauce and served it in a little oblong glass dish that was reserved for such a special holiday treat.
Here's a link to Ocean Spray's tutorial for a perfect Cranberry Log (how to get jellied cranberry sauce out of the can in one piece).
-- table photos are my own, taken at dinners I attended in 2005 and 2006.