When I was growing up, my father owned a laundromat. His laundry attendant was a lovely woman named Mrs. Vidales, who had moved to Chicago from Mexico. Mrs. Vidales spoke very little English, and my dad spoke next to no Spanish, but they somehow managed to communicate and had a wonderful friendship that lasted many years. I think she looked at him as a son, even though she had several of her own.
Every year, we were invited to Mrs. Vidales' home for Christmas Eve. She had many grown children, and Christmas Eve was always a loud, warm, colorful event, full of laughing children and the most amazing food. Those holidays introduced me to the Mexican tradition of Christmas tamales. As a child, I had no idea how much time and energy went into the making of those wonderful little cornhusky bundles of goodness. Since those days, I've had the opportunity to participate in making tamales a few times, and I now have a grown-up appreciation for the love that goes into them! Very labor intensive, tamales are best made in a day-long marathon, assembly-line-style, in quantities massive enough for enjoying, sharing, and freezing.
Although fun, the tamale-making process isn't my special tradition; eating tamales for Christmas dinner is! I was thrilled when a Mexican grocery store opened in our town a few years back, giving me easy access. We have them several times throughout the year, but there's just something about a Christmas tamale that's so different to me. I think the smell especially takes me back to those festive Christmas Eves of my childhood. Most of my kids are picky eaters, so I haven't been successful in recruiting converts, but I hope someday the aroma of steaming tamales will remind them of Christmas, too!