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Christmas and Tamales

Tamales during the holidays are like chips and salsa, cake and ice cream, Santa and Rudolph, Christmas time is the tamal niche. Do you have a plan for tamales on Christmas? It’s not too late.

A holiday meal shared with loved ones will bring laugh out loud moments around the dinner table and in the next instance, a sobering comment or memory will bring a quiet moment for reflection and gratitude for the year that is ending. This covid era has many people yearning for peace and joy. Any kind of feast shared with family and friends is especially coveted this year, verdad? I love our family tradition of tamales at Christmas, it encompasses so much more than a delicious meal.

Taking tamales to the next level would be to experience a tamalada.


This is a gathering of family and friends to make tamales en abundancia! An all day affair that will keep you on your feet much of the day. After all the necessary ingredients have been foraged, here are five not so easy steps to making tamales:

  1. Preparing the masa is like a full upper body workout and a true tamalera will know when it’s flavorful, smooth and ready. Masa is not the main ingredient but perfect, tasty and smooth masa will enhance your experience as you bite into your tamal.
  2. Sorting out the corn husks and soaking them can be a tedious chore but your tamal must be wide enough to wrap the savory or sweet filling in a snug hug.
  3. Cooking and simmering the meat fillings in a green or red sauce slowly, allowing the sauces to seep into the meats. My familia tends to stick to traditional sauces and meats but there is so much creativity as far as filling a tamal.
  4. Assembling your tamales with a well balanced ratio is important. Too much masa can cover the filling flavor and too little masa will steal the masa/filling combo experience that hits your tastebuds simultaneously. A well balanced tamal should not be underestimated.
  5. Arranging the tamales in the large pots can be somewhat challenging. The tamales must steam upright and the must fit snuggly in the pot or they’ll fall apart. Once they’re covered and steaming the tamaleras can sit down and rest their feet while they wait on the tamales, mind you, the chatter never stops. Hijole! Those five steps are a lot of work. Personally, I only take those steps at Christmas time, but I love it. I'm a sucker for traditions, especially mi ama's. This age-old tradition of making and sharing tamales creates a wonderful atmosphere and strengthens the cord of friendship as we work. Enjoy the hustle and bustle of this Mexican-American Christmas tradition all day long amidst the conversations between las comadres and cuñadas.

I’m gearing up for tamales next week, looking forward to my once a year tamal marathon with my cuñada and our girls. If you don’t have time or if your energy has been spent, relax, order your tamales, but don’t do Christmas without tamales.

1 comment

Richard Arrington

Did you ever hear of Ybarra’s tamales in Brownsville? They made pork tamales with raisins. Masa very thin. Do you make any like that? Thanks. Dick Arrington

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