If you’ve grown up in a family that celebrates Christmas with tamales, there’s a good chance it’s not because you’re Mexican. There are many reasons why most people eat tamales on December 25th. This isn’t to say all Latinos eat tamales on Christmas any more than all American celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey. But we wanted to get in the season’s spirit by sharing why Tamales may be part of your Christmas celebration.
Tamales are so popular that they are eaten all year round, but they’re specially prepared for Christmas in some areas of Mexico.
The tradition dates back to pre-Colombian times when native tribes would celebrate the winter solstice with feasts accompanied by music and dance. The Aztecs offered tamales to their gods in honor of the maize goddess Xilonen.
When the Spanish arrived in Mexico, they were served tamales at Christmas time as well. They were pretty surprised by these delicious little bundles of goodness because nothing like them had existed in Europe at the time, and they quickly began eating them themselves! Their popularity eventually spread across Central America and parts of South America.
It is said that this is how eating tamales at Christmas became a tradition: it was due to Spanish explorers who brought them back from Mexico as gifts for friends and family during their explorations there!
What Are Tamales?
Tamales are a traditional Mesoamerican dish made of corn-based dough, called masa, that is wrapped in a leaf wrapper and cooked. The dish originated before the time of the Aztecs and has been eaten by indigenous populations all over Central America for hundreds of years.
Tamales typically contain meat, cheese, vegetables, or fruit. They’re often served as part of a festive meal or celebration; especially during the Christmas season in Mexico and other Latin American countries. There’s an entire street fair dedicated to tamales in Mexico City alone during the holiday season.
Tamales are typically filled with pork, chicken, or shredded beef in Mexican homes. In Guatemala, tamales are often filled with sweet raisins or fruit. In El Salvador, they’re usually filled with beans or cheese. They’re often filled with potatoes, peas, chicken, and carrots in Colombia. In Venezuela, they’re traditionally filled with olives and capers.
Tamales are a great source of protein and starch and are very filling; they can be eaten as an entrée, appetizer, or even dessert! Traditional tamale recipes usually call for pork lard as a cooking fat, but many modern recipes substitute vegetable fats such as coconut oil instead.
What Do Tamales Symbolize?
Some people eat tamales for the taste. Others know that tamales have a deeper meaning than simply the food itself. Tamales are a symbol of love, friendship, and family.
According to Mexican folklore, the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl created tamales by wrapping corn dough around roasted red peppers, corn, and beans. The Aztecs would wrap their tamales in large banana leaves and cook them over open fires or under hot ashes. Today, modern versions of tamales are wrapped in corn husks instead.
The Aztecs believed that tamale-making was time-consuming and tedious work; therefore, only women who were considered worthy could partake in making the sacred food. Because the process of making tamales is so time-consuming, they were traditionally served at holiday celebrations or other special occasions such as baptisms or weddings; usually by families with a large number of children or grandchildren so that everyone could help with the preparation.
To properly prepare tamales for these occasions, it took an entire day to make them, and many women came together to work on them together as a sort of bonding experience.
The tradition of making tamales for Christmas can be traced back to the Aztecs, over 2,000 years ago. The Aztecs would make tamales out of corn dough and fill them with some meat—often turkey or fish. They would wrap the tamales in corn husks, which were discarded after eating.
Tamales are still eaten at Christmas today because of their long-standing symbolic association with the holiday. Tamale-making is a time to celebrate family and love one another—so much so that in Mexico, it’s become a tradition to kiss whoever made the tamales!
In some modern Mexican Christmas traditions, tamales are used as an offering to Jesus Christ or St. Joseph. They’re placed in nacimientos (nativity scenes) and other food items like bread and fruit. At midnight on Christmas Eve, Mexicans attend masses or religious services where they consume their offerings as part of a feast known as la posada. The night marking Jesus’ birth in a manger.
How Did Tamales Become A Christmas Tradition?
Tamales are a delicious and festive part of many celebrations, but they’re especially popular during the holiday season.
A Christmas tamale is a pork or chicken dish packed into corn dough (masa), wrapped in a corn husk, and steamed until the meat is tender and served with red or green salsa.
The tradition of eating tamales on Christmas dates back to Aztec times. The Aztecs considered it good luck to eat tamales during the winter months—and it’s still lucky today!
Other cultures later adopted the tradition, like the Mayans and Toltecs.
It became even more popular when Spanish conquistadors brought it to Europe, introducing new ingredients like olives, pine nuts, raisins, and capers. When these ingredients were added to tamales, they were called “guajolotas.”
Over time, tamales spread throughout Spain and eventually made their way into Latin America, where they became part of the Christmas tradition.
Although it’s true that the tradition of eating tamales on Christmas Eve has its roots in Mexican culture; it’s not exclusively a Mexican tradition. It continues to be a bit of a mystery why, exactly, tamales are eaten on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Some believe that it has to do with earlier religious customs; while others put it down to the fact that most Mexicans are Catholic. Whatever the reason, tamales will most certainly be part of many people’s Christmas celebrations this year and in years to come.
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