Christmas Time Means Tamales!

We made some great tamales for Christmas parties this year! We made Grilled Chicken and Roasted Vegetables and Lentil, White Bean and Vegetables. It was a lot of fun making them and even more fun watching people eat them up!

In Mexico and Central America, and for many Mexican American families, Christmastime means tamale time. From the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12 through Three Kings’ Day on Jan. 6, tamales are a culinary requirement.

How did tamales come to be associated with Christmas? In Mesoamerica, from whence they hail, corn was viewed as the precious substance of life. It was believed that the gods made humans from corn. Wrapped tamales were part of ritual offerings. After the conquistadors arrived and banned human sacrifice, little bundles of corn — tamales — were “sacrificed” instead.

Perhaps more sacred than the corn offerings themselves was the ritual of tamale making. Talamadas, or tamale-making parties, were illustrated in the hieroglyphics of the Toltecs and Olmecs. To this day they are a vital component of the celebrations surrounding sacred occasions such as baptisms, first communions, special wedding anniversaries, and, of course, Christmas.

In this pandemic holiday season, it may be difficult to find a tamalada. But given the stay-at-home orders, you can create your own tamalada with your family in your kitchen. (What else are you going to do?) Try one of the tamale recipes below, gather your loved ones, set up an assembly line, and spend an afternoon making bundles of deliciousness.

This article appeared in the Los Angeles Times on December 15, 2020