Christmas in Southern California isn’t like a Target holiday commercial. Excitement over winter swells outweighs hopes for snow, scarves are a fashion statement rather than a necessity and stop-and-go traffic is much more common than dashing around in sleighs. But there is one item unique to the southland that easily makes up for the iceless roads and frostless windows: the tamale. Thanks to our Latin American neighbors, the tamale has become a staple in the holiday diet of Southern Californians. But why tamales at Christmas? More importantly, why not all the time?
Tamales are thought to have originated in Mesoamerica as early as 7,000 BCE. Aztec, Incan and Mayan women created the portable, nutrient-packed dumpling as a convenient food source for traveling armies. While away from home, warriors could steam pre-wrapped tamales for a quick meal on the go. Although no longer used as a wartime provision, the modern tamale still assumes a significant role in Latin American culture. Today, the tamale, or tamal, is a celebratory dish made for special occasions, with nearly every Spanish-speaking country across the globe commemorating holidays with some form of tamales. No holiday seems to get more tamale-lovin’ than Christmas though, as yuletide tradition entails vast tamale-making parties in which women come together just before the holidays to crank out these South American delicacies by the hundreds. While no set conclusion has been drawn about why tamales are linked to Christmas, many speculate that their lengthy and intricate cooking process is too monumental to be repeated more than once a year. Still, others assert that the process is a bonding experience for family and friends that reinforces the true meaning of the holidays.
While homemade tamales require determination and experience that students simply won’t have around finals week, there is another option for Gauchos who want to satisfy that south-of-the-border craving.
The city of Oxnard will be holding their 4th annual Tamale Festival Saturday, Dec. 3. Festivities include an eating contest, beer garden, live music, pictures with Santa Claus and of course, tamale tasting. Also, for those wishing to try their hand at tamale-making, live demonstrations and cooking shows will be taking place throughout the day. As for the rest of us, over 80 local vendors will be attending to ensure guests don’t leave hungry. Proceeds from the festival will aid local charities and non-profits, making this tasty celebration that much sweeter. So if you’re looking for a delicious study break during finals week, try a quick 45-minute road trip down to the Oxnard Tamale Festival held from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. in Plaza Park.
The tamale has become a delicious symbol of togetherness during the winter months, and no true SoCal Christmas would be the same without it. So whether you attend a festival to fill that holiday craving or share a homemade batch with your family, it seems we all have something to look forward to unwrapping other than gifts this holiday season.