Host a Tamalada This Christmas

This season, get in the holiday spirit with a tamalada—a tamale-making party that gets everyone involved in preparing this traditional Mexican Christmas food. Hosting a tamalada is a great way to have tamales for the holidays without having to do all the work yourself. Plus it's a great opportunity to visit with friends and family while you work. Genius!

Tamales are a traditional Christmastime treat for many Mexican families; they've been served for centuries as part of the traditional Christian celebration of Las Posada, commemorating Mary and Joseph's search for shelter before the birth of Jesus. They're a great food to make for holiday entertaining because they're portable, easy to store, and inexpensive to make for large gatherings.

In Mexican traditions, “tamales are practically required on so many holidays,” says chef, cookbook author, and host of PBS’ Pati’s Mexican Table Pati Jinich.“Of course, tamales are also an everyday food for Mexicans. But I can eat tamales every day of the year and still feel the desperate need to have them for Christmas.” Typically Pati, her husband, and her boys spend the holidays with family in Mexico. “We all stay together, and we’re all making this food that we love.”

While they’re worth the effort, homemade tamales require time and patience—so the more people on hand to assemble, the easier the task will be. Gather family for a tamalada—tamale-making party—before Christmas, and let each participant go home with tamales as a Christmas gift. We've collected our favorite tamale recipes, along with food and drinks to serve guests during your tamalada. Here's everything you need to know before hosting a tamalada.

tamale making party
Andy Lyons

Gather Tamale Ingredients

Tamales are bundles of corn (masa) dough and filling wrapped in dried corn husks then steamed. Three things are essential when making tamales: dried cornhusks, lard, and masa harina, which is a traditional Mexican corn flour made from dried corn dough. Look for cornhusks and masa harina in the Mexican section of large supermarkets or at your local Mexican food store.

The cornhusks are used for shaping and wrapping the tamale fillings into neat little packages while they cook, but are discarded before the tamales are eaten.

Lard is the traditional fat used in Mexican cooking. If you're not a fan, you can use vegetable shortening ($4, Target).

Finally, masa harina is a processed corn flour. It's often used to make corn tortillas, tortilla chips, and other Mexican specialties.

Tamale masa dough

Prep Your Space

The first step to throwing a tamale party is to set up enough space to make the tamales. Most tamaladas use a long table (or multiple tables) to create an assembly line. If you don't have a great space to set up, consider picking up a long folding table ($44, Walmart) that can easily be folded and stored when you're done. Review our helpful guide on how to make tamales so you're prepared to teach your guests. Some tamaladas give each guest a specific step in the tamale-making directions, but others let each guest make tamales of their chosen flavor from start to finish. If you've never thrown a talamada before, try out a few methods to find what works best for you and your guests.

Cornhusks soak for tamales
Andy Lyons

Prep Your Ingredients

As the host, making the masa dough along with softening the cornhusks is something you should do ahead of time. Purchased cornhusks are brittle and need to be softened so they won’t tear or crack when assembling the tamales. Soak the husks in hot water by weighing them down with a heatproof plate or pie plate ($8, Walmart). Since you'll be prepping the main ingredients, ask your guests to bring the fillings and treats. Share our favorite filling recipes with guests, and read below for suggested snacks and drinks for guests to bring.

Editor's Tip: The masa dough is ready to be used when a small ball will float in a glass full of water.

Brush up on your tamale wrapping basics:

01 of 03

Add Filling

tamale how-to step 1: spread masa dough onto corn husk and add filling
Jason Donnelly

Spread each husk with a 3- to 4-inch square of masa dough and a couple of tablespoons of filling.

02 of 03

Grab Edges

tamale how-to step 2: bring long edges together, folding and rolling the corn husk
Jason Donnelly

Bring long edges together and fold to one side, rolling as if you’re closing a paper bag.

03 of 03


tamale how-to step 3: fold the tapered end of the corn husk, leaving bottom open
Jason Donnelly

Fold the tapered end of the husk from the bottom up, leaving the top open.

Taco Bar

Provide Snacks

Tamale-making isn't a quick activity, so there's lots of time for visiting with friends and family during your tamalada. Set out a snack table with tasty, easy-to-hold finger foods—like these pork empanadas—to keep your guests' stamina up throughout the party. We also recommend a make-your-own nacho or taco bar—use our favorite nacho recipes and favorite taco recipes for inspiration. Whichever party food you pick, try a new topping and wow your guests with this smoky pineapple guacamole.

Fiesta-Ready Churro Bar
Andy Lyons

Set Out Sweets

No party is complete without sweets on your snack table. Try these amazing Mexican-inspired desserts, all easy to eat with little to no mess. If you like donuts, you'll love these buñuelos with your coffee. Or try this yummy sopapilla cheesecake bar recipe. We also love these easy-to-eat huachibolas (jam and cream cheese rolls).

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles