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Tamales & Christmas go hand in hand
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Enrique Cardenas doesn’t look forward to holiday meals very much.
But Christmas – and the tamales that come with it – are a completely different story.
The Mexican native who is now a naturalized US citizen looks forward to the holiday season when he gets the opportunity to visit the house of his grandmother and help her prepare the holiday tamales that will be served up on Christmas Day to his entire family.
“If you grew up in a Mexican family you know how important tamales are what a big deal it is to get together with all your brothers and sisters and cousins and aunts and uncles and spend time together,” Cardenas said. “The whole social aspect of it is a big deal to us, and there are certain smells that you remember from your youth that just stand out and standing in my grandmother’s kitchen is definitely one of them.”
And of course, no holiday meal would be complete without homemade sweet breads that are enjoyed by everybody almost as much as the tamales are.
But for the Cardenas family, Christmas is about much more than the family getting together and enjoying homemade Mexican food and conversation.
A Catholic school graduate himself who grew up in the church, Cardenas said that the only time the family leaves the house on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are to attend the Spanish mass at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic
Church in Manteca – keeping the true meaning of Christmas in focus despite the modern commercial climate.
“Everybody knows the story of Christmas, but when you grow up in a household of devout Catholics it really puts your faith and the basis for the holiday into perspective,” he said. “Every kid looks forward to Santa Claus – I grew up with el Dia De Los Reyes in early January and we became accustomed to the American Santa Claus when we came here – but you never lose focus of what it is that you’re celebrating.
“For us, getting together and cooking and catching up is a big part of the tradition that we’ve established, and we all look forward to it. But everybody knows why we’re there and the miracle that we’re there to celebrate.”
In Mexico children often receive presents on January 6th after a nearly three-week long celebration that begins on Dec. 16th. In addition to performing the “Posada” processions – representing the Census pilgrimage to Bethlehem by Mary and Joseph – they culminate the celebration with gifts that are presented not by Santa Claus, but the three wise men.
While Cardenas said that his family has since adopted more American traditions as they acclimated to the new culture, the cornerstones of faith and family will never change.
“We’ve always gotten together for as long as we can remember, and I’m proud that it’s a tradition that will be carried on by my children,” he said. “They’re going to carry the torch the same way I did, and I know that this is something that they’ll be proud to continue.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.