Christmas is coming, the rush is on and all I can think about is making sure we have tamales for the big Christmas dinner.

I'm Midwest raised, grew up with our tradition of pretty much the same meal on Christmas as we had on Thanksgiving. I never thought about it being different here in Arizona. Of course I was 12, what did I know. But when my parents uprooted me and took me far away from family and traditions, we ended up having lobster our first Christmas here. Lobster? I had never even heard of lobster. And fish for Christmas? I still can't believe they did that. Therefore, I really do appreciate traditions.

I married a native Phoenician, a wonderful Hispanic man, and there put my traditions in question again. Married nearly 20 years now, Christmas is not Christmas without turkey, dressing, green bean casserole and, now, potato salad and tamales.

Tamales were invented around 5000 B.C. when it was necessary to have food prepared ahead of time, then carried to the next location where it could be thrown on a fire, or even eaten cold. They wrapped a corn husk around the "masa" (corn) to hold it together. From there the tradition caught on quickly.

When we first got married, we bought tamales from family members raising money for Christmas. Sometimes we would get really lucky and my husband's grandmother, "Nana," would make some, and we scored. She's in a rest home now and other family members don't make them anymore. So, we find ourselves looking to local restaurants for our annual tamales.

Most Phoenicians now have tamales as part of their holiday meal. Ask friends or neighbors if they have tamales, you might be surprised at how many do enjoy tamales for the holidays.

You can make your own, but I highly recommend you "get invited" to help someone else make them - someone with lots of experience. It's a very labor-intensive job. Really, do not take it lightly! When making tamales they usually make 12 to 35 dozen at a time - yes, around 400 tamales. Making them is just not for me, no thanks.

Instead, we now purchase them locally around Ahwatukee. The Original Burrito Co. and Los Taquitos, both on Elliot Road near 48th Street, offer good tamales. Many other restaurants do as well. If you know something about tamales, you might get like me 20 years later - pretty picky. You can pick up a dozen around $18 or $20, and you get a choice of cheese, corn, chicken or beef, and green or red at most places. There are even sweet tamales. Did you know that? There are dessert ones, my father-in-law told me about them a year ago. Word has it, chocolate tamales are amazing.

I encourage you to try a tamale the next time you are at a local restaurant that offers them. If you have never had a tamale it will come in a husk that you have to peel off. Don't be shy about asking your waiter to give you a little tamale lesson - you won't be sorry, they are so good.

Happy Tamales ... I mean Happy Holidays!

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