House of Rock’s Annual Christmas Eve Tamale Dinner, like most cherished traditions, started with humble beginnings and the intent of spending time with one another during the holidays.
The local concert venue opened in 2005, and with the Corpus Christi Caller-Times building just down the street, the paper’s employees–many of whom were transplants in the city– regularly took to House of Rock after a long shift. When the holiday season rolled around that first year, it became clear many of these now-regular customers from the paper didn’t have holiday plans with family.
“We learned that a handful of Caller employees didn’t get much time off, if any, around the holidays, and several of them didn’t have holiday plans,” House of Rock Owner Casey Lain said. “We also realized a lot of these newcomers had never participated in the South Texas tradition of tamales during the holiday season.”
A lightbulb went off in Lain’s head. Why not offer a Christmas Eve meal to the folks who had become a chosen family of sorts? And so the tradition began.
Since the dinner’s first year, House of Rock has partnered with local taqueria Chacho’s Tacos to prepare the meal. Up until the kitchen opened in 2014, Chacho’s catered hot meals for all of House of Rocks touring acts, making it an obvious collaboration for the big tamale dinner. Lain himself even jumps into the kitchen to whip up rice and beans with his staff.
A newer addition to the tradition is an array of locally-made salsas from Jalapeña’s Salsa. A few years back, Jalapeña’s Salsa owner and chef Alyssa Peña reached out to Lain offering to donate her salsa to the cause.
“Between Chili Mondays and the Tamale Dinner, there are a couple of debates that transpire regularly,” Lain said. “One is do you put beans in chili? The other is, do you put ketchup or salsa on your tamale? We may never know the answer to the ketchup vs salsa debate, but I will always take a good amount of locally made salsa over ketchup on my Chacho’s tamale!”
Lain added that the partnership between both local businesses makes the whole experience more personable and results in a rather delicious meal.
Almost 20 years later, the event is still held every year on Christmas Eve and Chacho’s Tacos still prepares the delicious tamales. 400 tamales are made and passed out to any and everyone who walks through the doors the evening of Dec. 24. “We have regulars that come out every year,” Lain shared. “For some customers, this is their holiday family meal; for others, the dinner is a place for them to go for a friendly smile, a good meal and the chance to play the Lone Star tree guessing game.”
That’s another special component of the tradition. Each year, House of Rock decorates the venue with an epic Christmas tree made entirely of Lone Star beer cans. What started as a simple and budget-friendly way to spread holiday cheer throughout the 6,500-square-foot building has since become an impressive engineering feat that keeps people guessing.
“The first tree was built on top of a round table, it was solid cans and only about four feet tall,” Lain said. “We produced the Lone Star Tree Guessing Game where we decided whoever guessed how many cans are in the tree without going over would win a pair of tickets to every concert for one full year.”
The Lone Star tree became the perfect conversation piece at the dinner and served as a fun photo op. Over the years, the House of Rock team has gotten creative in the variety of ways they construct the tree to keep participants on their toes. For the past 12 years, Lain and General Manager Stephaine Brazeal have built the tree together. This year, the tree features a big ‘ole Santa Claus, stage lights, guitars and a singing rooster.
If you’re looking to start a new holiday tradition or simply don’t feel like cooking the night before Christmas, this year’s Christmas Eve Tamale Dinner kicks off at 8:30 p.m. and food is served at 9 p.m. The event is free to attend and dinner is on House of Rock.
“I like tradition,” Lain said, “and giving up a little time to others on a special day feels good. Not everyone has a place to celebrate [the holidays], and it feels right to make sure those people have a place to go. As long as we are still occupying the corner of Mesquite and Starr, the plan is to continue the tradition. ”