Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Christmas Tamales

A sweet tradition

Many years ago, when my grandfather was seriously ill, in El Paso, Texas, he and my grandmother hired a medical student from the university in Juarez, Mexico, to help take care of him. Julio was a wonderfully giving, caring person, and one Christmas, he brought a gift of tamales to the family.

In many Hispanic families, making tamales for the holidays is a special event. Whether the family is in Mexico, or has been in northern New Mexico for centuries, part of the family holiday festivities revolves around the tamales – all pitching in to knead the masa, or dough, and to assemble the dough and the fillings and wrap them properly in corn husks. Julio’s family in Juarez was no exception. He and his brothers and sisters and I have no idea how many other relatives got together to make the Christmas tamales. And that year, he shared those tamales with our family.

About half of the tamales were the usual sort, filled with meat that was highly seasoned with chile and spices. But the other half were not the usual sort – instead of spicy meat, these had raisins and dates and nuts, and they were seasoned with cinnamon. Instead of salsa, the garnish for these tamales was honey. They most definitely weren’t the usual hot tamales. Julio explained that those tamales were special for Christmas.

Since then, I have learned to make sweet Christmas tamales. Most people don’t understand them until they taste them – I remember one time I took them to a potluck dinner the theme of which was Christmas celebrations in other countries, and people kept relocating my tamales from the dessert table to the main dish table.

But I keep making those Christmas sweet tamales every year, and I remember Julio. He brought his family’s love to our family that year, at a time we really needed it.


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