When I was a girl I pined for a beautiful, ethereal, angel to grace the top of our Christmas tree. I envisioned the angels I’d seen in the pages of home magazines, or atop the trees in movies: layers of flowing, luxurious material as a dress, large feathered wings, and perfectly coifed hair.
Instead, our tree had the Tamale Angel.
Have you ever made, or eaten, authentic tamales that are wrapped in corn husks? That’s what our angel was made of: corn husks. Our angel had a plain face, fuzzy black hair, a dress made of dry corn husks, and tiny little corn husk wings. Our angel was simple. Our angel was not Caucasian. Our angel didn’t live up to my standards.
When I got married and set up my first Christmas tree with my husband you can bet your sweet bippy that I placed the most ethereal angel on our tree that I had ever seen. She has been our Christmas overseer for 15+ years now. She has lived at three different homes and welcomed two perfect children to our family. We love her. She is what I always dreamed belonged on my tree.
Age changes perspective though and now when I return home during the Christmas Season I find myself drawn to the little Tamale Angel at the top of my parents’ tree. My grandmother used to spend the better portion of a weekend hand-making and rolling tamales a couple times a year. It didn’t occur to me as a child that not every family gets home made tamales at Christmas, or what a precious gift and tradition those tamales were. It didn’t occur to me that the fuzzy black hair of the angel at the top of our tree was almost identical to the fuzzy black hair on the top of the head of the woman who brought me into this world, nursed me, clothed me, raised me, and continues to be my angel here on earth.
Now, forty years later, the Tamale Angel still graces my parents’ tree but she is showing signs of her age. Her corn husk dress shows spots of discoloration and the wear and tear of years of use and storage. She now has to be tied to the tree with twine to remain in place. One of her little wings has deteriorated. Her hair is ever more escaping from her hair tie. I can identify with this angel. I look at her and think, “Yes, I get it.” For I too am spotted, worn, and a little disheveled these days. I now appreciate her non-Caucasian beauty and the importance of her position at the top of our family tree.
I will still use, and love, my angel in my home. But, I now equally appreciate, and love, the beauty of the Tamale Angel.