hristmas Eve at my grandparents'
house is a clan gathering.
Four generations of the family come
from all over the state to congregate at
our patriarch's small home in Harlingen.
On this special night we visit with one
another, attend midnight mass, open
gifts, and feast.
Traditionally, Christmas Eve is the
most important night of the Christmas
holidays in accordance with old Hispanic
customs, for it is the night that Jesus was
born. A big part of the celebration is the
Christmas Eve meal. The evening usually
begins with a feast of Mexican dishes, including
the rare ephemeral tamales, pan
de polvo, and Mexican hot chocolate.
Tamales are a Christmas tradition; much
time is involved in their preparation and
they are usually made by a group of
women relatives or comadres a few weeks
before Christmas, who then divide them
among themselves. I can remember as
a young girl watching my grandmother
make tamales. Everything was made from
scratch. She would even make her own
masa. She would buy large-kernel white
corn, cook it, and then take it to one
of the neighborhood molinos, or mills,
where they would grind it into masa. In
her metate she would grind dried red chile
ancho for the meat mixture. Over the
years her hands have come to bear the
evidence of her labor of love.
Another custom is the attending of
Misa de Gallo, or Midnight Mass, by all
the adults and children. The children invariably
fall asleep during the extended
holiday service, but not for long. After
the mass, the entire clan returns to the
house for the opening of the gifts. It is
traditional that you wait until after midnight
to open gifts, reminiscent of the gift
giving to Baby Jesus by the Three Magi.
After all the gifts are opened and the last
tamale has been eaten, we go to sleep and
await Christmas day.
HERITAGE would like to share with our
readers recipes having the flavor of previous
generations. If you would like to share
a recipe with our readers, please send it to
HERITAGE, c/o Food Editor; P.O. Box
12243, Austin, Texas 78711.
Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 04, Number 03, Winter 1986. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45440/. Accessed January 26, 2015.