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Two Families, Two Traditions

Cultures, Christmas and Culinary Creations

The Padilla Tamale Tradition

Two Families, Two Traditions Cultures                                                                                                                            Christmas and Culinary Creations

As Christmas approaches, Topeka Mayor Michael Padilla and his wife, Ronnie, begin plans for the family Tamalada. This is a traditional tamale-making gathering in many Mexican- heritage households. Everyone from grandparents to cousins joins together to assemble tamales based on recipes passed down from generation to generation.

“The day we make the tamales is kind of a party,” says Mayor Padilla. “It’s not all work. Everybody brings potluck dishes. Somebody’s always designated to make a holiday punch for the adults and a punch for the kids. We spend the whole day visiting and talking as we work through our job assignments on the assembly line. By the end of the day, everybody had a good

Ronnie adds, “We’ve been doing it for a few years now because I didn’t want the tradition of learning how to make tamales not to be passed down. The whole family comes. We make tamales all day long, enjoy each other’s company, and get ready for Christmas.”

There are several steps to making tamales. Everyone has a job, with the youngest kids cleaning the corn husks, which is simple but tedious. As the children become more proficient, they move up the assembly line to more complex tasks. Everyone gets to take one or two dozen tamales home at the end of the day, some of which are saved for Christmas Eve.

Mayor Padilla remembers as a child, “I got pretty good at spreading the masa. And there’s a trick to it. I started off with a knife like everybody kind of does, but then my father was the one who showed me how to do it with the back of a large spoon. That was the job I had the most fun with.”

While the finished tamales steam in a basket over simmering water, Ronnie uses the downtime to teach her nieces and nephews other family recipes. One year, she showed them how to make homemade tortillas. Another year, they learned the recipe for her brother’s pork and peppers dish. This way, the kids are familiar with foods from their ancestors.

“It’s not just the tamales,” says Mayor Padilla. “It’s the idea that they hand down the elder women’s recipes from generation to generation. It’s that continuing of what you grew up with getting passed to the next generation. That’s the connection to your family and relatives.”

Topeka City Lifestyle thanks Porterfield’s Flowers and Gifts for providing the Christmas
tree in Mayor Padilla’s photo.

Leipold's Family Traditions

Two Families, Two Traditions                                                                                                                                            Cultures, Christmas and Culinary Creations

Football has often impacted the holidays for University of Kansas football coach Lance Leipold’s family. He remembers a past Christmas day staff meeting and coaching a bowl game on the holiday two years ago. Now that the Jayhawks qualified for a bowl game this season, the Leipold family will once again need to adjust their festivities.

“For our kids, that’s what they know,” Coach Leipold says. “But we’re together, and that’s the most important thing.”

His wife, Kelly, organizes the holiday schedule. She includes traditions from the past and newer ones created with their children. Daughter Lindsey is a graduate student in Texas, and son Landon is a sophomore at Free State High School.

Growing up for Kelly, on Christmas Eve, her family went out for dinner. While they were away, Santa would bring the presents for them to find when they got home. She thinks a neighbor played the part of Santa’s delivery person. She remembers one year, “We’d gone to dinner, and when we came home, there was a puppy in a box in our living room. That was my favorite memory of Christmas.”

As a kid Coach Leipold remembers going through catalogs to mark what he wanted for Christmas. He also learned that the bigger the gift doesn’t necessarily mean the better. Smiling, he explains, “I picked one to open, and Mom said, ‘It’s not what you think it is. You’re going to be disappointed.’ I thought she was playing with me. I had this big gift, and I opened it up. It was just a bed pillow.”

The family goes to Christmas Eve church services and then opens one present afterward, which is always pajamas. Kelly says she spends more time working on the “Christmas jammies” gift than anything else. Each year features a different theme. As the kids have gotten older, the theme has gotten more unique.

“After last year, I don’t know how it’s going to go this year,” Coach Leipold says with a grin. Laughing, Kelly agrees, “I don’t know how we’re going to top it. Let’s just say the movie “A Christmas Story” was involved last year, and our son did not like the end result.”

One other Leipold tradition is enjoying homemade Monkey Bread on Christmas day. The recipe came from Coach Leipold’s mother. She created a handwritten cookbook containing the recipe given to the couple when they were married. Kelly puts the recipe together on Christmas Eve and bakes it on Christmas morning.

The Leipold family traditions will once again need to adapt to a football schedule. Luckily, they have experience with celebrating wins and Christmas at the same time.

“We’ve traveled some because of our schedules, and we’ve tried to protect some of our time,” he says. “We have short windows to spend around the holidays, but no matter where we’re at, it’s still about our family and the meaning of Christmas.”