Culture and food keep a close bond, so much so that some dishes are usually related with certain celebrations. Tamales are a good example of the relation they keep with the “Candelmas Day”
The origin of this festivity goes back to the Christian tradition, which commemorates the purification and presentation of infant Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem. Every February 2nd, families remember the event taking their images of Holy Child to receive the priest’s blessing. The reminiscence of this liturgical passage is what led people to refer to this date as the “Feast of the Light”, “The day of Candels”, and “Candelmas Day”.
On this day, people who found the “baby Jesus figurine” hidden in their piece of kings’ cake back in the Epiphany celebration on January 6th, assume the responsibility to provide the guests with tamales and atole on Candlemas (February 2).
According to a survey conducted by Consumers’ Study Direction (DGEC) of the Federal Consumer Agency (Profeco), 90% of Mexicans celebrate Candelmas Day with tamales.
But, why tamales?
As most of Mexican traditions, the blend of Catholic traditions and pre-Hispanic culture rituals is present in Candlemas Day: while the conquerors were holding the festivity of the Presentation of baby Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem, Mexican traditions were commemorating the first day in the Aztec calendar in honor of Tlaloc. Chalchiuhtlicue and Quetzalcóatl.
Interesting facts: 1. The word “tamal” comes from the Nahuatl language “tamalli”. 2. Tamales have included pork fat in their preparation as part of the Spanish heritage, which added moisture and texture to the tamal mixture.
Tamales were always present in the offerings ancient Mexican cultures made to gods, as they are made of corn –the essential material the gods used to create thumanity according to the legend of “Popol Vuh” the sacred book of the Mayan. The book refers to several attempts by the Númenes before succeeding to create man; it was corn the selected material that finally allowed them to bring humanity to life.
The flavors of this delicacy, easily conquers sharp tastes of both, Mexicans and foreign diners.
Paula Kollonitz, who took part of Empress Carlota’s royal court during Second Mexican Empire, recounted her admiration for this emblematic dish through her book The Court in Mexico, calling it the best national dish: “A turkey ragout prepared with chilies, mixed with corn flour, wrapped in corn leaves and steamed.”
Whether salted or sweet, wrapped in cornhusks or banana leaves, tamales are a specialty not to be missed in Mexican tables this February 2.