Maria Milan and Armandina Flores stand in a corner of Luna's Tortillas in Dallas preparing pork and jalapeño tamales. Each has a corn husk in hand; one spreads the "masa" or dough, and passes it to the other other, who adds the meat. They've been preparing 100 dozen per day since July in anticipation of the hungry holiday masses that come through the restaurant and tortilla factory every December.

"After Thanksgiving, we'll start making about 150 dozen a day. Two weeks prior to Christmas, they'll make about 200 dozen a day," says Fernando Luna, owner and president of the 92-year-old business. 

It's not an easy task -- preparing all the necessary tamale ingredients takes days -- but it's worth the elbow grease, Luna says.

He sells roughly 5,000 dozen tamales from Dec. 22-24 alone.

"From the 15th of December to the 24th, we're here basically 24 hours a day, cooking and wrapping, cooking and wrapping, cooking and wrapping," Luna says.

Texans have an insatiable taste for tamales during the Christmas season. The little bundles of meat and masa have long been a traditional holiday indulgence among Hispanic families, but in the last couple decades, they've become a staple among many Anglo family Christmases too.

Ask why and it's obvious you're not from around here.

Stuffed with history

Tamales are a centuries-old dish associated with the Aztecs in Mexico, who were among the first documented cultures to make, sell and eat them. The word too comes from the Nahuatl word "tamalli," which means "wrap," says Verónica León, a Mexico native and professor of Spanish language and culture at Southern Methodist University.

Corn was a staple of the indigenous peoples' diet, but León says tamalli is a generic term that applies to more than 5,000 types of tamales in Latin America. The ones Texans know and love are characteristic of northern Mexico, which at one time included the Lone Star State.

Keeping tradition: Fort Worth woman offers tips for making tamales at home

Historically, on the days leading up to Christmas Eve, Hispanic families gathered to make tamales, an event known as "tamalada" or tamale-making party. And considering the arduous preparation -- grinding the corn, mixing it with other ingredients to make the masa, seasoning and cooking the meats, soaking the husks before spreading and wrapping the tamales, then steaming them -- the more hands in the kitchen, the better.

After celebrating Mass on Christmas Eve, the families would return to eat tamales, open presents and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

"Why do we eat turkey on Thanksgiving?" says León. "Even though turkey is available all year long, it goes back to time when you appreciate family. There are families that it wouldn't be Christmas without tamales."

The Battle of San Jacinto and the Treaties of Velasco may have officially made way for Texas' independence in 1836, but they didn't inherently change the region's culture.

"Traditions travel with people," León says. The government may have moved the border, but the people -- and therefore their traditions -- stayed in Texas.

Traditions, tamales evolve

When La Popular Tamale House opened in Dallas in 1984, tortillas and chips were its bread and butter, so to speak. Although tamales were a menu item, they accounted for a small portion of sales at the family-owned-and-operated business. That held until the 1990s, when manufacturers Mission Foods and Bimbo Bakeries overran the marketplace, says manager Jesse Moreno.

"They monopolized the industry, and so a lot of those small companies had to evolve, had to change, or close down," he says. "We decided to evolve."

Certainly the menu evolved. La Popular, at Peak and Elm streets, is now known as a tamale house selling a variety of traditional meat and vegetable tamales. But the business' demographic also shifted -- 80 percent of La Popular's clientele is now Anglo, Moreno says.

He and Luna, of Luna's Tortillas, peg this transition to the last 10 to 15 years and attribute it to organic growth. Moreno recalls bringing tamales to school as show-and-tell items and fielding questions about them from his Anglo classmates. Luna suggests word-of-mouth is prompting more people to buy tamales than to make them at home.

"It's not a gimmick, it's just things catch on," Luna says. "Now we'll be out here, open the doors and there's Mercedes outside, there's Rolls-Royce outside. There's cars of money that are here buying tamales."

The way people are eating tamales has evolved, too. Though both Luna and Moreno contend the best tamale is one you don't have to add anything to, they'll serve hot sauce, queso or ranchero salsa on the side. Hispanics sometimes eat them with a bowl of champurrado (hot chocolate), and Luna has even heard of a few families stuffing their Thanksgiving turkeys with tamales. La Popular also offers a special of the month, such as January's black eyed-pea tamale, to entice new customers.

Despite the changes, Moreno and Luna say they're happy to be a part of their customers' traditions. Moreno has a group of guys that eat their tamales in the parking lot every Christmas Eve. Luna has one company that orders 400 dozen annually to give to employees.

"My grandmother opened [Luna's] in 1924 and we do not take it for granted," Luna says. "We love to serve the people of Dallas."

Vianey Alderete contributed to this report.

What's Happening on GuideLive