The Caucus Blog – Tamale making a Christmas-time Tradition for many Illinois Families

Tamales have been a staple in Mexican culture for centuries, dating back to the times of the Aztecs, Mayans, and Olmecs. Tamales are regarded as a sacred food for the gods and eaten on special occasions, including holidays. Eating tamales during Christmas time is a deep-rooted tradition for many Mexican families, and that tradition has become a part of the culture in other areas of the world as well. 

In Illinois, eating tamales during the Christmas season is part of the local culture as well, including the Chicagoland area. Christmas tamales are a tradition for many Mexican families in Chicago, and there are also several restaurants that serve up thousands of tamales to customers during the holiday season. Aracely’s Bakery in Franklin Park has been in business for over 40 years, and over the holidays the tamale business swells. Aracely’s sold nearly 12,000 tamales last year. 

Some other tamale tradition rich restaurants include Cecy’s Molino de Masa, Las Posadas, El Dia de los Reyes, and Three Kings Day.  Additional restaurants that are known for their tamales are El Sabor Poblano, Tamales Lo Mejor De Guerrero, Kie-Gol-Lanee, Xecul Restaurante, Mis Moles Restaurant, Sol de Mexico, Restaurante Y Tamaleria La Bendicion, Chilo Y Chela Restaurant, The Authentic Tamale Guy, Bar Sotano, Yvolina’s Tamales, Fiesta Tamaleria el Barrio, Carnitas Uruapan Restaurant, Tamale Lady, Xocome Antojeria, and Fat Johnnie’s Famous Red Hots. 

The preparation of tamales has become a social event, as families gather to assemble their holiday feasts. Tamales have been around much longer than tortillas. The foundation of a tamale, or tamal in Spanish, is masa, or maize dough. It’s cushiony, soft and can be eaten alone or filled with vegetables, meat, cheese, or any filling of choice. To put a tamal together, the masa is spread onto a corn husk or banana leaf before adding the fillings. Then they are wrapped and steamed. Tamales can be refrigerated for up to three days once they’re cooked. 

Tamales connect Mexican American families with their ancestral roots. In Aurora, a grandmother gathers with her female grandchildren a couple of weeks before Christmas every year. An assembly line is formed, as the ladies make the family’s traditional holiday meal – tamales. This type of scene is very familiar, as younger and older generations work together to ensure that the traditions will carry on into the future. 

In Elgin and the Fox Valley, a woman learned to make tamales after marrying into a large Mexican family. Tamales are now part of the family’s Christmas tradition, shared with children and grandchildren. The family makes 300 corn tamales each year. The family’s assembly line features each person being assigned a specific task, whether it be preparing the masa, putting the meat inside or folding the tamale. The most important ingredient is love. 

“Mexican Americans are very proud of their rich traditions, and making tamales at Christmas is a staple around Chicago during the holiday season,” stated Rep. Brad Stephens (R-Rosemont). “These family reunions every year bring people together to carry on legacies from centuries ago.”

“Tamales are delicious and fun to make, and gathering family members from around the country to do it at Christmas time is very special,” added Rep. Randy Frese (R-Paloma). “There are also many great restaurants that make this enticing Mexican treat that can be enjoyed year-round.”

“There is a proud tradition of families and small businesses making tamales in my district,” added Rep. Joe Sosnowski (R-Rockford). “Just this summer I discovered another great small business tamale maker at the Boone County Fair. Nothing beats the taste and quality of food from our family-owned establishments!”