Wednesday, May 5, 2010

An Unexpected Victory

Magnet #234:  Costa Maya Sombrero

Material:  Ceramic

Purchased By:  Mary

Well, Cinco de Mayo is here once again, so I guess it's time to break out the tequila and margaritas and put on a sombrero, if you're into that kind of celebrating. And if the surge of customers at Mexican restaurants and bars all over the world on this day is any indication, lots of people are. Despite its worldwide popularity, Cinco de Mayo is not the most important day in the Mexican calendar. And some people even think it's the Mexican Independence Day, but that's not until September. So just what is Cinco de Mayo about and why is it such a prevalent holiday?

Cinco de Mayo dates back to 1861, when France invaded Mexico after that country's President, Benito Juarez, decided to stop making interest payments to countries they owed money. Obviously, that didn't go over very well in many of the countries, particularly France, who initially fared well in the conflict. However, on May 5 of 1862, Mexico struck back at the city of Puebla, and won a stunning victory over the considerably larger and better armed French forces. But their victory was short-lived, as France eventually overtook their nation, setting up their own ruler, Emperor Maximillian I. But after the United States stepped in, the French backed down, eventually pulling out all of their forces by 1867. This marked the final time a force from another continent would invade any nation in the Americas. As early as the 1860s, Mexican immigrants in California began celebrating on the 5th of May, in response to France's occupation of their homeland. By 1863, the observance was continuously celebrated. But even after the French were gone, Mexico never really got into the event, except in a few locations, like the state of Puebla. It's not even a federal holiday there. There is limited celebration in the country, but it's really in the United States that Cinco de Mayo is most popular. Here, there are festivals featuring Mexican music and dance, even at the White House. And, of course, the most popular way to celebrate seems to be heading out to drink traditional Mexican alcohol with friends. But plenty of native Mexicans avoid this event, as they don't really consider it to be part of their heritage. Oddly enough, it's still spread to other countries, as far as Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. Somehow, this underdog of a holiday has become a champion around the globe.

So just how did this celebration that's not really observed in its own land get so popular in another? You've got me. Is it the beer and liquor companies that are spreading the word through advertising? Or perhaps it's the legions of folks who simply want an excuse to head out for happy hour at a Mexican establishment once a year? Really, it's become a sort of Mexican version of St. Patrick's Day or Oktoberfest here in the United States, and I can't help but notice one common element between the three celebrations - alcohol. Whatever the reason, Cinco de Mayo's worldwide popularity is almost as unexpected and unexplainable as the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla, and perhaps that's as good a reason as any other to join in the festivities.


  1. Just think if you were in Dallas you could participate in this:
    "Since it’s Cinco de Mayo, you might be looking for a place to celebrate appropriately. You’re in luck: we’ve got a list of bars you can go to here. But nightlife editor Christine Sracic recommends hitting Mattitos. The reason? The Bob Armstrong queso eating competition. Manager Jim just told me how it works: competitors each get a 10-pound bowl of Bob Armstrong dip (you know, the queso with the meat, guac, sour cream, etc.) and five minutes to eat as much as they can, using a chip as a tool. The winner gets free Bob Armstrong for a year (if they can stomach it). This goes down at 7 pm and they’ve still got three spots left. Try it if you dare."
    You might be sick until Cinco de Mayo 2011!

  2. Wow - I like queso dip, but that's a little too much for my comfort. Sounds like something Man V. Food's Adam Richman ought to try out.