Tamales for Candelaria in Mexico

Ingredients for tamales

It’s Candelaria. The 2nd of February. The midpoint between the winter equinox and the spring solstice. Originally known as Candlemas in English, for the blessing of candles in the church, it’s a day that has been reduced to a shadowy presence in the United States, eclipsed by Groundhog Day, when a groundhog from Punxsutawney, Pa., is paraded on television as a weather predictor.

In Mexico, though, Candelaria is still celebrated. It’s the start of spring planting, the tail end of the long Christmas period and the commemoration of Christ’s presentation at the temple in the Catholic calendar. The Candelaria tradition springs from All Kings Day (Jan. 6), for which a sweetbread known as the Rosca de Reyes is baked with a figurine inside representing the baby Jesus. The sweetbread is eaten with hot chocolate and whoever has the slice with the figurine has to offer a party on Candelaria. And that party means tamales. Although they are eaten throughout the year, especially during the Christmas season, tamales above all are associated with Candelaria.

Snubbed by the wealthy


The iconic stuffed and wrapped maize dumplings that date deep into pre-Hispanic times, were not always popular with the well-to-do in Mexico. For centuries after the Spanish conquest, they preferred white bread rolls, dismissing tamales as rustic or street food, eating them only as a snack outside of regular meals. In 1901, Julio Guerrero assured his fellow citizens in the “Genesis of Crime in Mexico” that the diet of poor Mexicans — wild greens, beans, nopales, squash, fried pork skins, chiles and corn tortillas — caused social backwardness and delinquency. Tamales were nothing but an “abominable folk pastry.”

My article on tamales for Zester Daily.  To cut to the chase, one part of the story of how an abominable folk pastry became mainstream in Mexico.

And some others.  From Ruth Alegria, something of El Nino Dios (apologies to Ruth for missing the link earlier). From Lesley Tellez, strawberry tamales. From Kathleen of Cooking in Mexico, chocolate tamales. From Ben Herrera Beristain, a tamalada. From Mexico Desconocido (in Spanish) why tamales on this day.

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5 thoughts on “Tamales for Candelaria in Mexico

  1. Claudia A

    Hola Rachel, wish I could have had some tamales yesterday. We were planning a tamales festival but the weather played a nasty trick on us. We are on for next Wednesday, I’ll call you with details!

  2. Don Cuevas

    We were in Colonia Roma Norte, Mexico, D.F. this past weekend. On Saturday morning, I went out and found a lady selling very good tamales on the corner of Avenida Álvaro Obregón and Calle Jalapa. We shared one of mole and the other of rajas.

    When we returned on Monday morning with a friend, the lady was replaced by a man. Same spot, same stand, but terrible tamales. Así es la vida.

    Don Cuevas


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