Try the Durans' recipe for a great gathering.

Fiesta Brisket
Credit: Photo Jennifer Davick / Styling Sissy Lamerton, Caroline Murphey / Food Styling Marian Cooper Cairns, Angela Sellers

When the Southern sun sets in the west, the last rays of the day fall on El Paso. In this border town, Christmas takes its cue from two diverse cultures-those of Texas and Mexico. This rich blend of people and food is a hallmark of Lynda and Leonard Duran's annual holiday gathering.

Lynda hails from East Texas, where celebrating the season embraces traditional Southern style. Leonard's family, only two generations removed from Mexico, preserved many of that country's customs while living in Arizona. Leonard's Army career took them to El Paso in 1988, where he is now in private medical practice.

"When we first moved here, we had three young children, but no other family nearby," Lynda says. "The party was a way to celebrate Christmas and develop our own traditions with neighbors and friends."

The get-together spans generations as easily as it bridges cultures. "Our family custom of making tamales soon after Thanksgiving became the calling card of our party," Lynda says. "We make so many of them; it takes all of us working together to make enough for our guests." Adults and children eagerly anticipate the event, which now includes a new generation of grandchildren.

In addition to the tamales, Lynda keeps the menu simple with brisket, salsa, tortillas, Mexican rice, and her special cornbread. The Durans' holiday decor is also a Tex-Mex blend. On the mantel, nutcrackers stand sentinel with chile pepper lights at their feet. "Each time we've lived in a different city or I saw a nutcracker that pertained to our family, I've added it to our collection," Lynda says. "The mantel is symbolic of how we have evolved."

The party becomes more meaningful each year, Lynda says. "It makes me realize what good friends we've made."

Southwestern Holiday Menu:

Tamale Time
Making tamales as the Durans do each year is a labor of love.

The family fills corn husks with masa and other ingredients and rolls them into small bundles for steaming, a job that requires time and patience. Fortunately, there are companies that sell tamales by mail. Here are a few we've tried.

Pedro's in Lubbock offers traditional tamales with beef, pork, and chicken, as well as salsa, seasonings, and chili. To order call 1-800-522-9531, or visit

Hot Damn, Tamales! is Fort Worth's vegetarian choice--the tamales contain no meat or meat products but are wonderfully flavorful. Choose from Black Bean and Oaxaca Cheese, Wild Mushroom and Texas Goat Cheese, Fresh Corn and Roasted Poblano, and Spring Tamales. To order call 1-888-385-0125, or visit