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EL PASO A growing appetite for tamales (and limited time to make the labor-intensive holiday favorite) has people lining up to buy fresh tamales at the last minute.

'It's maybe 30 degrees, but it's worth waiting in line,' said a woman who would only give her name as Mrs. Gonzalez. She was standing outside Tamales Lupita's with dozens of other people bundled up against the cold waiting to pick up hot tamales.

There was a time when most tamales were homemade But these days, it's hard for working women to find time to stuff corn husks with masa and filling in time for Christmas Eve.

'It's three hours prep, and then it takes a whole day to make them,' said Marina Medina, who usually makes her own.

This year she was picking up several dozen at Gussie's Tamales and Bakery. She only had two days days off, and had to return to work the day after Christmas.

In the kitchen of Gussie's bakery, half a dozen women wearing red shirts worked as hard as Santa's elves to stuff corn husks with masa and a variety of fillings, including pork in red chile, chicken and green chile, and cheese with jalapenos.

People who want to preserve the tradition at home lined up at La Colonial Tortilla Factory to buy masa or cornmeal dough by the pound.

'I'm, making my own,' said Esperanza Lopez, a white-haired grandmother who uses a cane. 'I don't like to buy them.'

Once mostly a Mexican Christmas tradition, more families of all backgrounds are now making tamales part of their holiday meal.

'Put me down!' cried Michaela, a little blonde girl in a frilly dress who was being carried by her father as he waited in line to place an order at Gussie's.

A man with white beard (who looked a lot like Santa Claus) was also waiting in line, smiling and waiting patiently in keeping with the Christmas spirit.

'I'm a fat guy with a white beard,' Rick Clark with a chuckle, adding: 'Merry Christmas!'

E-mail akochega@gannett.com

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