RR is one of my best friends and roommates. She is a sophomore at USC who enjoys crocheting, writing poetry, and making me laugh.
Me: “Ok, so now, tell me the story about the olives.”
R: “(laughs) tamales with olives, Sophia. So every Christmas, it’s a tradition in my family that we make—We have tamales.
That’s like the main course of the meal on Christmas.
And my grandma spends weeks preparing, like literally hundreds of tamales.”
Me: “What goes in them?”
R: “I’m not allowed to know the recipe because my grandma is still alive.
When she passes away, it will pass down.
But yeah, it’s a secret but it’s basic like masa flour.
And then the corn husk is what it’s wrapped in.
And then the fillings.”
Me: “Did her mom make them too?”
R: “Yeah. Or well, her mom is Italian but they grew up in Arizona
in a Mexican community.
But my grandpa is like Mexican Mexican (from Mexico)
but um, in the middle there’s red chili, and there’s green chili and it’s usually pork,
And they do an assembly line.
and then one person will put the masa in the corn husk,
and then the other person will put the filling
and then it’s one person’s job to put a single olive in every little tamale.
And if you forget it, it’s bad luck
when you eat it and a tamale that doesn’t have an olive in it. It’s bad luck.”
Me: “What does it mean?”
R: “Well, it’s Christmas and the time of the new year.
There’s also traditions where you eat grapes.
So things shaped like that, like little fruits of the earth are supposed to make you have a fruitful New Year.
And so that’s what the olives mean.”
Me: “Okay, and if you don’t get one, you’re not gonna have a fruitful year?”
R: “Not necessarily, but it’s better that you get one with one of them.”
Making tamales for Christmas is a major tradition in many Hispanic cultures. Corn was commonly viewed as the “substance of life” because God supposedly made humans from corn. In regards to the olive part, after further investigation, each tamale can be viewed as a symbol for the Holy Virgin. The olive is supposed to represent baby Christ waiting to be born (as he was on Christmas).