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There is nothing I love more than the holiday season and all the joy it brings. Yet my favorite part of this time of year is the delicious food that comes with it. Sometimes, it’s hard to pick what the best dish is. I often dream of the chocolate smash-up cookies that my mother taught me to make as a child or the cups of Abuelita hot chocolate that we wash them down with. At the end of the day, however, nothing competes with the staple that truly makes it feel like Christmas: tamales. 

Tamales are a traditional Mexican dish that are known for their appearance at Christmastime. They are made of masa — a type of dough made from corn — that is wrapped around a filling and then steamed inside a corn husk. My personal favorite is pork, but they can also be filled with beef, chicken, or even fruit for those who prefer sweet tamales. My family often has what we call a tamale party around the beginning of December. We all meet at someone’s house and form assembly lines, preparing dozens of tamales to keep us supplied for the winter. It is usually accompanied by lots of eating, drinking, and general chaos. But it’s always fun, and it always really puts us in the Christmas spirit. 

We’re not alone, it’s a common practice for Mexican families to come together for tamal making around the holidays. It creates an opportunity to feel connected to our roots and appreciate the rich culture that is in our blood. It also allows us to spend quality time — lots of quality time, tamales have a long and laborious process — with our loved ones. It is often hard for families to find a chance to spend time together, so every minute around the holidays feels extra special. Before long, we find ourselves throwing tortillas on the comal and sharing stories of the past. At the end of the night, we leave with way too many tamales and with the true joy of the holiday season. 

Tamales can be traced back to around 8,000 BC, to the Pre-Columbian Aztecs. So they are, in fact, in our DNA as a people. Our indigenous ancestors did not eat the exact tamales that we know today, but they still set the basis for what would become a staple for their Mexican descendants. I’ve always felt very connected to my indigenous roots. I often wonder about the information that was lost when the colonizers forced their culture onto the Natives, forever impacting the identity of Mexico. While I know that around three-quarters of my blood is indigenous, I still feel I know very little of indigenous culture. This is why finding any way to connect to my roots is so vital to my personal identity. Just knowing that thousands of years ago, my ancestors were grinding corn, making masa, and filling tamales as I do today is enough to make me incredibly proud of my heritage. 

Tamales are not only delicious but a symbol of Mexican culture and our identity. They represent familial love and warmth during the holiday season. I will never be able to forget the image of my Grandma Priscilla coming up the walkway on Christmas eve, hands full of dozens of tamales. I will never forget her serving me a sweet one — full of sugary pineapple — even though I don’t enjoy them, and eating it to keep her happy. I can still picture helping my grandfather unwrap the steaming corn husk from the soft masa, hoping I got him red chili and not green. I can still feel the rough hojas in my hand, spreading the uncooked masa across them and handing them off to my aunt to be filled. I can hear my grandmother asking for more wine, the men yelling about a football game, and my tias spreading chisme as they wrapped tamal after tamal. There is no Christmas without tamales.

Caroline Lopez

Cal Lutheran '23

My name is Caroline and I’m an English major at California Lutheran University. Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, I love spending time going to the beach and traveling around the state. I am a passionate book nerd who spends all her free time reading the classics. I also enjoy watching old movies as often as I can. But my biggest love is, of course, writing!
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