Here in the Great American Southwest, it just ain’t Christmas until the citrus trees decorate themselves with bright, ripe oranges, lemons, grapefruits, and kumquats. Neither is it Christmas without tamales.
When I was a kid growing up in Oklahoma, the only tamales we ever ate came out of a can. I had to grow up and move to Texas, then Arizona, before I learned the joy of real, like-God-intended, tamales.
Tamales are a labor-intensive food, so they’ve become a traditional holiday treat. Just about every Spanish speaking Western Hemisphere country has its regional varieties of tamales. Don’t think tamales are a Spanish dish, though - they’re much older than that. On their first trip to Mexico, the Conquistadors were treated to tamales by the Aztecs. (Had the Aztecs known how it was going to all turn out, they might have considered spiking the tamales with something lethal, but that’s another story.)
Usually made with pulled pork filling wrapped in masa (a cornmeal dough made with nothing much more than ground corn, water, and lime - the mineral, not the citrus fruit) Masa is the same dough used to make corn tortillas, but rather than cooked on a griddle, like a tortilla, a tamale is wrapped in corn husks, or banana leaves in some regions, and steamed. It’s something like a long, luscious, spicy, steamed cornmeal dumpling.
In the Mexican state of Sinaloa, they make several varieties, including one stuffed with pineapple. Until I came to AZ, I had never eaten a green corn tamale, which is meatless, stuffed with cheese, sweet corn kernels, and mild green chiles. Every holiday season, beginning around Thanksgiving, the stores and restaurants begin selling tamales of every imaginable variety. Pumpkin-stuffed is quite popular, both a sweet variety and savory. It’s also easy to find chicken, beef, and sausage as well as the more traditional pork filling. If you hunt around a little, you can find all kinds of odd stuffings - chocolate, pineapple and raisin, both often with chiles in the recipe. One year I saw a raspberry and almond variety.
Whatever your traditional Holiday foods are, I hope you eat a lot of them and enjoy them as much as I enjoy my Christmas tamales.