What Are Christmas Tamales and Why Are They Popular in Texas?

By  | 
Tony Maples Photography


During the holidays, Mexican restaurants bustle in Texas to fill orders for Christmas tamales. But, people don’t always purchase tamales from shops. Many families take to making their own during the holiday season. Why Christmas tamales are so popular in Texas comes down to the heritage of many who live in the state.

What are Tamales?


Photo: Flickr/Stephanie

Most of the tamales found in the Texas Hill Country are Mexican in origin or influence, though all Latin American countries make variations on these treats. The ones served in Texas include typically beef, chicken, or pork fillings wrapped inside masa dough, made from corn. A cook wraps a corn husk around the entire thing and steams it until the dough cooks. After cooking, you can eat the tamales as is or top them with chili, but don’t do the faux pas of trying to eat the inedible husk.

Making Tamales

Christmas tamales in a steamer

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Making tamales from scratch does require some effort and time but anyone will tell you the taste of fresh tamales from a steamer is second-to-none and worth the effort. Don’t just make a small batch. It’s just as easy to make a large amount of tamales as it is to make a smaller set, so why not prepare a few dozen and freeze the rest or give them away. To make the tamales, you’ll need to prepare both the masa dough and filling separately. In some cases, you can find the dough already prepared, but you can also purchase bags of masa harina from the store, which have directions on the back for making tamale dough. An important step is soaking your corn husks in water to soften them enough to wrap around the fillings.

Once everything is ready, spread a small amount of dough onto a corn husk, add a spoonful of filling on top, roll it up and fold the end of the husk over to seal the bottom. Once finished, steam all the tamales in a steamer with the open side up until thoroughly cooked. It could take an hour or more, so be patient.

Why Christmas?

Making Christmas tamales

Photo: Flickr/Ray Bouknight

Traditionally, tamales are served at many holiday celebrations, but Christmas tamales are extra special because they tend to be homemade. Families get together for a tamale-making party called a tamalada. In keeping with the phrase “many hands make light work,” this gathering reduces the labor each person contributes to making the tamales. Without help, tamale making can be a long, tedious process. But, when family gets together, it becomes a fun tradition.