The Tradition Behind Christmas Tamales in Texas and How to Make Them
It's true, tamales around Christmas time are a TexMex heritage tradition and religious holiday custom. While tamales in the summer just do not make sense because of the hot summer months and nobody wants to be in a hot kitchen making those tasty corn-husk-wrapped wonders.
While I start as early as Thanksgiving serving tamales at any of the Thanksgiving dinners I prepare. I call on family and friends to make tamales for me. First, there is Mama Fella who is a friend of the family for over 50 years. Then there's Mama Mary who makes and sells tamales here in West Texas, and both of them make some amazing Tamales.
LOOK: These are all the differnt ways to make Tamales
So the big question is, "why are tamales a seasonal thing and not big year-round?" I know the answer to that question, and better to be safe than sorry, I asked those that make the tamales to find out the different reasons families and friends have for making them.
First, I decided to ask Mama Fella (aka aunt Felicia) she's made tamales around the holidays for the last sixty years. She said that back in her youth she thought it was because of the corn harvest and the corn husks had been harvested and dried and prepared through the Summer and Fall months.
It was when I called a lifelong family friend, restaurant owner, and cook Tio Omero (uncle Omero) that he shed more light on the tamale history. While the harvest of the corn had something to do with it. It was more about Mexican, religious, and TexMex traditions.
Omero said "when families come together to celebrate the holidays. That's when moms, aunts, and grandmothers gathered in their kitchens and made tamales." Why tamales? he said because "we would harvest a pig for the winter months and use the leftover pig's head to make tamales with what little meat was in them and the recently harvested corn made the masa and the corn husks to wrap the tamales in.
As Christmas celebrated the birth of Christ, Hispanic families come together to celebrate the Birth of Jesus with family, prayers and food
This would feed a good-sized family at large. Omero went on to explain that it's also a religious católico celebration. "As Christmas celebrated the birth of Christ, Hispanic families (many of which are Catholic) will come together to celebrate the Birth of the King Jesus with family, prayers, and food. Most of it being tamales because you can feed a lot of people with very little meat."
So, on Christmas day those who gathered around their dinner table gave thanks as they would also share in the blessing of the pig and corn harvest. There is yet another holiday where tamales are used to celebrate the baby Jesus and that falls in the first week of February.
Now onto making tamales. While first-timers will think it's a blast to be making this incredible food item. Those that have made them for years tend to hide because they think they're too labor-intensive.
However when you see someone's face light up at the taste of your awesome creation. That is the best gift of the season. The video below is a very easy way to make tamales and you don't have to use a pig's head. You can use pork, chicken, beef, or fish, and you can go vegan (although I really like the pumpkin dessert). Enjoy your tamales and Merry Christmas.