USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘tamales’
Rituals, festivals, holidays

No Such Thing As Too Many Parties

Original Text: “En el día de los Reyes Magos, se pone un bebé en la Rosca de Reyes. El que corta el pedazo con el bebé tiene que hacer una fiesta con tamales el día de la Candelaria el 2 de febrero.”

Transliteration: “On the day of the Kings Magicians, you put a baby in the Thread of Kings. He who cuts the piece with the baby has to make a party with tamales the day of the Candelaria on 2nd of February.”

Translation: “On the day of the Three Kings, you put a baby in the Thread of Kings. The person who cuts the piece with the baby has to host a party with tamales on the day of the Candelaria on February 2nd.”


This is a Mexican tradition, similar to that of New Orleans’ King Cake. You bake a baby doll (not an actual baby, of course) into a cake known as the Rosca de Reyes or “Thread of Kings” as it translates into English. The person who gets that piece is then in charge of hosting the celebration for the Feast of Candelaria. The Feast of Candelaria celebrates the appearance of the Virgin Mary in Tenerife, Canary Islands. The source fondly remembers celebrating both Three Kings Day and the Feast of Candelaria when he was younger. Much like Christmas, it brought the family together.

Both of the holidays involved in this tradition speak to Mexico’s roots in Christianity. The Feast of Candelaria, however, is made uniquely Mexican in this tradition because of the making and sharing of tamales, a food native to the country. While other Latin American countries do make tamales, none of them celebrate the Feast of Candelaria like Mexicans do. I also find that this speaks to Mexicans’ fondness of celebrations. This tradition guarantees that someone else is going to throw a party in the next few weeks. That’s three big celebrations in a row: Christmas, Three Kings Day, and the Feast of Candelaria.

Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mexican-American Christmas Eve



My informant tells me that despite her ethnicity, she does definitely not associate herself as being culturally Mexican. It is telling then that despite these claims, the part that she associates with the most in this tradition are the Mexican foods and treats that her family indulges in. Clearly tamales, Mexican chocolate, and the special breads do not make their rounds frequently, but when they do they are welcomed with open arms and mouths.

It is also a tradition that celebrates the liminal moments – the moments of transition. They open the gifts together at midnight on Christmas Eve, the moment when it exactly becomes Christmas. They celebrate that together. I also think it is interesting that they have the child transitioning to adulthood as the one who distributes the presents. It is a form of initiation and celebration for that person who is growing up. He or she is the center of attention for that moment.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Foodways – Mexican

The informant learned the following Mexican foodways from her father’s great-aunt, who was Mexican.

She and her twin sister would make stovetop buttered tortillas and the family would make flatbreads and have tamales at Christmas: “There were little things that we would do when we were younger, um, like take a tortilla, put it on the oven [stove], uh, which had an open flame as opposed to most now that are just electric and just warm it up on there and put butter on it and eat it, uh, which I don’t see anyone do these days, but I remember definitely growing up doing little things like that. Making flatbreads, um . . . lots of peasant food, I guess you would call it for, you know, growing up in a big family in Southern California with slightly, slightly, um, slightly ethnic spin on things . . . I mean, my dad’s side of the family definitely, um, Mexican, Spanish, uh, foods that I would—they would make, like, um, tamales and stuff around Christmas time.”

The buttered tortillas were an anytime snack, but baking flatbread was special and tamales were a Christmas treat.

The informant describes the making of the tamales as “way complicated and a little boring . . . but they were good.”

The informant and her sister, as children of a cross-cultural marriage, inhabited a liminal space so far as traditional foodways went. The tortillas, clearly, have roots in the Hispanic tradition, but putting butter on them seems like a purely American way to eat bread. The informant seems to have rejected her ethnic childhood diet, as she calls it “peasant food,” which has a negative connotation. Alice Guadalupe Tapp, another Southern California resident with Mexican ancestry, writes about the tradition of having tamales at Christmas in her cookbook Tamales 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Making Traditional Tamales, mentioning that her family sometimes made more than 600 tamales for the winter holidays (9).


Guadalupe Tapp, Alice. Tamales 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Making Traditional Tamales. New York: Ten Speed, 2002.