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When our family first arrived on the Jicarilla Apache Nation’s homeland in northern New Mexico, we had no idea what the food would be like. We enjoyed the Jicarilla stew that always came to gatherings. We found scrumptious recipes for the elk meat we were gifted. And we fell in love with frybread! And we were baffled by the chiles available in the store—completely baffled. Why would anyone need 30 different kinds of chile seasonings and chiles to choose from?

Still, when Robin went to buy some chili powder for a favorite winter recipe, she couldn’t find any “normal” chili powder. It was all chiles, not chilis. And, yes, they are different things! Robin has brought back McCormick Chili powder from the Midwest ever since. She makes her “Midwestern Chili” with it. (We have several friends who love this mild chili!)

 We’ve also learned that in New Mexico, chiles are king! There are red chiles and green chiles. They both come in a range of spiciness. Green chiles are mellower, leaving a kind of slow burn. Red chiles have quick heat and can be very spicy.

And then there’s Christmas chile. We’ve been here more than eight years, and it’s only in the last couple that we’ve understood and embraced Christmas chile. It doesn’t really happen for the Christmas holiday; it’s a year-round thing. It means that you want both green and red chile sauce on the same plate: Christmas. 

Our family has been included in many family holiday gatherings. The hospitality of the Jicarilla is generous and open. We love the welcome our family receives at Christmas and all around the year, and we’ve also come to love Christmas chile. We hope you do, too.

Red and Green Chile recipes are available at New Mexico Magazine.

This recipe and reflection comes from RCA Global Mission missionaries as they share Christmas traditions from around the world. Enjoy these other holiday flavors and traditions:

Brad and Robin Kautz

Brad and Robin live in Dulce, New Mexico, where Brad serves as pastor for Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church.