My family has been in New Mexico for over 400 years. My Hispanic culture and family traditions are something I hold dear to my heart and work hard to preserve.

With the holidays fast approaching I find myself getting excited about all the special meals my family and I prepare and the religious meaning behind every recipe and ritual. Practicing these traditions re-tells our family story, it re-enforces a sense of pride and the excitement of us coming together.

Making tamales is paramount to preparing for the holidays. It’s “assembly line work” and labor-intensive but the fellowship and family memories are well worth the effort. Our family uses the finest red chili for our tamales, straight from the best chili farms in New Mexico – Socorro, the small town I grew up in.

It wasn’t until I lived in Europe that I realized tamales are a worldwide Hispanic tradition shared with our South American cousins and the varieties are intriguing. We use “hojas” (corn husks) in New Mexico to wrap our tamales and I was thrilled to learn South Americans use “banana leaves.”

Our New Mexico tamales are filled with lean slow-roasted pork marinated in prepared red chili, wrapped, and steamed. My great-grandmothers made dozens and dozens of tamales, enough to feed a small army and carefully stored them for freshness.

Exclusive to the Socorro holidays are “chili rellenos” and how we prepare them is unique to any relleno you’ll ever eat. The word “relleno” means “to stuff” and I often had this debate with fellow Hispanics who questioned the authenticity of our relleno delicacy in Socorro.

These treasures are made by slow roasting a lean – beef – roast, marinated, and mixed with fresh chopped green chili, seasoned, and rolled into little balls dipped in an egg white batter and lightly fried. Most rellenos are cheese stuffed green chilies – poblano in South America – batter-dipped and fried; but once you try our meaty version, you’ll never eat another relleno.

No one leaves the holiday table without enjoying a bowl of posole. This is a flavorful stew made with hominy, pork and red chili. It dates back to pre-Hispanic times and was traditionally served on feast days like Christmas, New Year’s Eve and All Saints Day.

If all this doesn’t leave your mouth watering the traditional desserts will get your attention.  Biscochitos (Bizcochito) are made with the same intensity and pride. This 16th-century cookie was introduced by early Spaniards; it is an anise shortbread cookie, topped with cinnamon sugar and traditionally shaped in the “fleur-de-lis.” Every biscochito recipe is unique to every family. My grandmother used white wine in her recipe, and I can still remember how they melted in my mouth.

Mexican wedding cookies are another shortbread version and my personal favorite, mainly because my mom makes the best. Rolled shortbread with chopped pecans dusted in powdered sugar creates the perfect bite-size cookie.

Empanadas are a holiday pastry baked or fried filled with peach or apple resembling an American “turnover.” These pastries can be made with different fillings. My great-aunt made mincemeat empanadas, which is more of an Old-World tradition.

All these traditional delicacies prepare us for the Christmas celebration, it’s a reminder of how important family is, fellowship, creating lifelong memories and preparing our hearts for the coming of Christ.

Each holiday season you will see luminarias, these small paper lanterns line walkways and rooftops on Christmas Eve. Last year I passed out luminaria “kits” for my neighbors and it was a sight to see the cul de sac lit up when I stepped out my front door. It gave me a sense of family and unity.

I hope that’s a feeling that never goes away and a family value we continue to share with each other. May we strive to be the light in times of darkness, offer hope, encouragement, kindness and compassion.

Joyce Vallejos-Richardson

Daughter of Patrick and Irene Vallejos

Granddaughter of Raymond and Seferina Vallejos

Great Granddaughter of Roman and Jesusita Gonzales

Great granddaughter of Andres and Vivianita Vallejos

Great granddaughter of Patricino and Guadalupe Gallegos

Great granddaughter of Dagoberto and Candelaria Ramirez


Joyce Vallejos-Richardson