Christmas Traditions in the Southwest
On Christmas Eve, those of Mexican heritage celebrate las posadas, or “the inns,” which commemorates Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter before the birth of Jesus. The tradition began in Mexico in the 1500s. It usually starts Dec. 16 and ends on Christmas Eve. In some communities in Mexico, the procession occurs all nine nights. Generally it is led by children who travel from door to door, singing Christmas songs. When they reach a designated “innkeeper” home, the hosts or “innkeepers” meet the procession at the door to begin the holiday fiesta.
Tamales are a central feature of the fiesta. They are most commonly composed of masa (corn flour dough) spread on a corn husk, and filled with meat, chiles, cheese, or variations on these. The making of tamales from scratch has become a Christmas event (called a tamalada) in part because it is so labor-intensive, taking several days, and so is best done when there are a lot of friends and family members around to help. Ingredients are prepared and tamales put together in an assembly-line fashion. In Tucson, there are competitions shortly before Christmas to determine who makes the “best” tamales.
Tamales (tamal is the Mexican “singular” use of the word) can be traced back to as early as 7000 B.C, when Aztec women were taken along in battle as cooks for the army. They needed a portable yet sustainable food and tamales could be made ahead of time, packed and warmed as needed.
We hope, no matter what your particular traditions are, that you have a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday Season!