Every year, for as long as I lived and even before me, my ancestors have celebrated the birth of Jesus with a delicious tradition of Tamales. There’s a joke, why do Mexicans make tamales every year? Well so they can have something to unwrap on Christmas. As racially insensitive as this may sound, there is some truth to it. In America, we have this huge thing about showering the children with presents. In the Latin culture, food is a huge ordeal and a work of art amongst the family. Tamales are not only made during Christmas time but on many other special occasions. I don’t think it’s coincidence either, that the food is something you unwrap. It is a dish that takes many hours of hard work and usually involves many, if not all of the family members.
In our family, we gather usually a week or two before Christmas and set up what we have called the Tamale Fest. We all contribute and we all have a hand at making the tamales for the Christmas Eve celebration. It feels like I have always had the same job, the spreader, another will clean the husks, and my Aunts and Mom are in charge of making the main recipe’s. We use old family recipes, with some tweaks throughout the years. One Aunt is in charge of the masa, the other Aunt and my Mother are making the chili’s and the meats. The rest of us are buying the cheeses, husks, wax paper, etc. We all set a place and time to meet at one house and we will be there all day, from morning to night. It’s a long process and in between we have fun dancing and singing to old Christmas music as well as Spanish songs to include our heritage. This is why refer to it as the Tamale Fest. It has become a family favorite tradition with so many fun memories.
I’m not a Tamale expert, like I have stated before I have had the same job most of my life. However, throughout the years I have learned some key steps to our process and I am going share these 7 essential actions with you.
The tamale process :
Step 1. The masa, it has to be mixed just right. You will know when it is done because the masa will float.
Step 2. The corn husks must be cleaned, no one wants the long stranded red hair “silk” in their tamale while they eat.
Step 3. The spreaders, we make sure to put just the right amount of masa on the husks and spread it out evenly, usually about half way up the husk.
Step 4. The inside is made with your family’s chili and meat recipes, and/or cheese and chili, or some even make sweet tamales with fruits and nuts as options.
Step 5. They are wrapped with wax paper to hold the tamale all together.
Step 6. Depending on the size of your pot, the tamales are steamed for a few hours. Ours is done in about 2hours and 45 minutes.
Step 7. We eat!
We store away a large amount of the tamales for the Christmas Eve festivities. Whatever is left over we bag up for each family member to enjoy at home. These must be stored in the freezer unless you plan to eat them all in the next couple of days.
You see this process is not only a tradition and something delicious. It is about a family uniting, working together, building memories for the next generation and then celebrating our efforts and rewards as a family. Christmas is not about the gifts of objects either but about celebrating the most precious gift we were all given, the birth of the one who sacrificed it all so that we could be with the Father later. So thank you God for sending your son to be born and raised on earth, the perfect man. It is in his honor we celebrate Christmas. So happy birthday Jesus, these tamales are for you.