Preparing Tamales – Our Holiday Tradition

My family began making tamales back in 1960.I obviously wasn’t a part of the first annual Christmas Eve tamale making event. Even my mother wasn’t around at that time. Many years ago, my dad’s family began making tamales, and the practice stuck. I often wonder if they knew that sixty-two years later the family would be making tamales together.


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During Covid, I was stuck on Okinawa. I wasn’t able to travel off the island, and I was forced to make tamales virtually. My husband and I made tamales on Facetime with my family. It wasn’t ideal, but I wanted to feel like I was a part of it, and I wanted to feel like we were keeping the tradition alive. By Christmas 2020, my father had passed away, and I wondered what he would have thought about his kids and wife making tamales over 6,000 miles apart with a screen connecting us. Once again, we had to do the same thing for Christmas 2021. Finally, Christmas 2022 was upon us, and travel had opened. We could return to Texas to be with our families for the holidays. There is nothing that could make me happier.


Preparation for Christmas Eve:

The preparation for tamale making begins before Christmas Eve. My sister secured a hogshead about a week before our tamale making. A couple of days before the 24th, my husband shot a deer. (Typically, tamales are made up of all pork, but when you are making 40 dozen tamales, and someone offers you free meat, you take it.) The cooking of the meat begins on the 23rd. I don’t remember my dad getting much sleep the night before our tamale-making, and I don’t think my brother, Tomas, got much sleep either. Most of the meat is cooked in the oven, and the goal is to not season it, but to ensure that it is as tender as possible. It cooks all night.

Christmas Eve:

We began showing up to my brother’s house about 9:30am, and immediately, the tamale work began. Tomas and his wife worked on the meat, which included grinding it up, and then putting it back on the stove to add in the delicious flavors. Some of our favorite spices include salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, and garlic.

As they worked on preparing the meat, their youngest daughter and I worked on the masa. We laughed that we were getting an arm workout from it. (Earlier in the week, we were supposed to meet to work-out our upper bodies, but we ran out of time. We got the upper body workout in as we were preparing our masa.) Our preparation included kneading in salt, chili powder, melted lard, and hot water into the masa. The goal was to create a delicious and spreadable paste. The little eight-year-old and I succeeded, because as more people showed up, they were able to easily spread, and our forty-dozen tamale project was underway.

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Throughout the day, our cousins showed up, and it reminded me of being a kid.

My dad’s best friend was his younger brother, my Uncle David. Uncle David and Aunt Cathy had three kids, and their three children were very close in age to my younger brothers, Tomas & Jorge, and my sister, Sophia. The two families spent holidays together, traveled together, and our cousins spent a great deal of time at our home. We spent every Christmas Eve together for many years, and it was such a treat to have them back making tamales with us on this very special Christmas Eve.

When I think about the day, I think that my favorite part is the quality time we get with one another.

I think the tamales are merely the “excuse.” As we sit around the table making tamales, we visit about all sorts of things. We talk more in those few hours than we may talk at any point in time the rest of the year. When people are as busy as my siblings and cousins are, it is hard to find long blocks of time to just hang out.

I loved getting to work with my brother all day. I loved all of the food his wife prepared for us. I loved hearing his kids laugh and play in the background. I often wonder if we could round everyone up to hang out for that long if we didn’t have some sort of “project” to finish.

As I write this, the word that keeps popping in my head is “GRATITUDE.” I am so grateful for my family. I am grateful for the Rodriguez family that came before me and began the tradition. I am grateful that my siblings are my best friends, and that we enjoy each other so much. I am grateful that we married such cool people. I am grateful that our cousins still enjoy hanging out with us too. Most of all, I am grateful that we have the means to continue with the tradition, a warm house, money for ingredients, and the ability to continue to keep my dad’s family’s tradition alive.

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Published by mondaymorningwithmona

I am a Texan, runner, military spouse, reader, a giver and a good friend.

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