Tamale-Making: A Mexican Christmas Tradition

Every year at Christmas time, without fail, my mom likes to tell the same joke:Q: Why do Mexicans always have tamales on Christmas? A: So that they have something to unwrap!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mexican cuisine, tamales are a concoction of cornmeal and various fillings (sweet or savory), wrapped in corn husks and steamed until cooked.

Once a tamale is cooked, you unwrap it from the corn husk and enjoy.

For many Mexican families, especially in California, tamales are synonymous with the Christmas season.

Many families turn their kitchens into mini tamale-making factories, churning out dozens of batches at a time.

The tamales are eaten throughout the entire holiday season, and also given away to friends and family members.

I’ve always liked the idea of everyone getting together to make tamales. Unfortunately, my Mexican side of the family lacks the know-how and culinary skills to actually take part in this tradition.

Instead, we turn to our local taqueria owner, a woman from Oaxaca, Mexico, who sells tamales of your choice by the dozen. Joining the Tamale Production Line

This year, however, I had the chance to get together with a couple of my friends in California—who are both of Mexican descent—and join their families in the tamale production line.

I always had the idea that tamale-making was a very laborious process, but it turned out to be relatively simple.

We bought a bag of prepared masa (a mixture of corn meal, water, lime, salt, and lard) from a nearby taqueria. The dried cornhusks, chicken, and green chili sauce were purchased from a Mexican market.

To make the tamales, you first have to soak the corn husks in cold water to make them pliable. Then, a layer of masa is spread on the smooth side of the husk. In the middle, you add the filling. Wrap everything up, and the tamales are ready to go in the steamer.

We ended up making two types of tamales. The first were sweet tamales, with a combination of brown and white sugars, and a heavy-handed pouring of ground cinnamon. The second was a savory mixture of green chili and shredded chicken.

Both types turned out really well, and it was fun to partake in this traditional activity.

It’s a nice way to spend time with loved ones over the holidays, and to create something delicious in the process!

Christmas Lights (Out)

On my fifteen minute walk home from school, through a residential neighborhood in Wembley, something seemed off. I couldn't put my finger on it. Something just wasn't right about the scene unfolding around me. Then it dawned on me: here I was, at the beginning of December, and I didn't see any houses decorated with Christmas lights.

In the suburban neighborhoods of the United States, especially near my home in Santa Clara, the Christmas frenzy starts around Thanksgiving.

People try to outdo each other with their lavish and over-the-top exterior Christmas decorations.

Case in point: the house down the street that goes all out every single year. It's as if Santa had a little too much Christmas cheer, and this is what came out.

I guess Americans really do live up to our reputation of wanting to outdo everyone else!

Baby, When The Lights Go Out Londoners are known for their British reserve. I mean, go on the tube and you'll never see more people trying to be as invisible as possible.

I suppose this applies to Christmas decorations as well. Nobody wants to be that house. The one that so blatantly draws attention to itself.

As cheesy as Christmas decorations can be, and how detrimental they can be to your electricity bill, it is something of a cultural tradition for me.

To not see houses bedazzled with lights and other ornamentation makes it feel a little less Christmas-y.

As I pondered all of this on my walk back, I rounded the corner down the street from my house. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimmer of surprise.

There it was: one single house with a string of modest Christmas lights around the window. It may not have been much, but it was enough to put a little smile on my face, and to add some Christmas cheer on an otherwise unassuming walk home.