A Christmas Tradition – A Birthday Cake for Jesus

My informant is my grandmother, and every year at Christmas she hosts the Christmas Eve celebration. As long as I can remember the Christmas Eve has been the exact same and this had to do with my grandmother’s traditions and her passing them down to her children.

Me: “Explain your special Christmas Eve traditions, and what makes them so important and distinct and who you learned them from.”

DC: “Do you mean the food?”

Me: “Yes, what we eat, and why and from whom did you learn this?”

DC: “Well, since I was a very little girl, my mother would make a special cake for Christmas Eve, this cake would be a vanilla cake with white frosting and decorated with cherries sliced in half on top, and this cake was a birthday cake for baby Jesus. It would be brought out after dinner, and for dinner on Christmas Eve we would always have tamales you know . . .”

Me: “Explain the tamales?”

DC: “I don’t know, my mom always went to a little Mexican woman and bought tamales from her for Christmas Eve oh they were the best, homemade tamales are just the best, and they were different every time. I mean we are in Arizona, why not have tamales at Christmastime. I don’t know why she did it, but me and my brothers would just eat them up and we would have the cake after. But first we would sing happy birthday to baby Jesus just like for anyone’s birthday, then we would blow out the candles together, oh there was candles on top too, just like a birthday cake . . . then we would eat it all together.

Me: “And you learned it from your mom?”

DC: “Yes, grandma Duffy, my mom always did this and I don’t know where she got it, probably from her mother, and I continued it on with my kids and now with my grandchildren and I hope you guys will all continue to have the baby Jesus cake and the tamales because it is just so fun and special. The recipe was her’s as well, she made it up. She was quite a cook, always made the best treats and whatnot, so I have made her recipe all me life. It’s on a little recipe card that she wrote herself.”


This is an example of a holiday tradition that has been passed down  generations and food traditions are very commonly passed down like this. Special food traditions at holidays for certain families are a way of performing that family identity and creating a family closeness and unity by the specific traditions. This being a Catholic family, singing happy birthday to Jesus makes sense and is a fun and silly way of reminding the kids and the adults of what Christmas is all about other than Santa Claus and presents. It is a way of teaching children the significance of Christmas as the day of the birth of Jesus Christ in a way they would understand because they too have birthday parties and cake. The tamales at Christmas Eve would be a result of living in Arizona and having the strong Mexican influence. This is family is not Mexican themselves, but living in Phoenix, one cannot help but be introduced to foods like tamales and so them being incorporated into a special tradition is an example of the cultural plurality of the United States and especially the Southwest.