Like most Americans, I enjoy the holidays. Even “lesser” holidays like Memorial Day are celebrated in our family, as my kids and I pick up souvenir shell casings from the 21-gun salute at a local cemetery. Thanksgiving is another favorite, a time to gather with family, thank God for our blessings, and wear loose-fitting pants in preparation for a feast fit for Vikings. And then there’s the big daddy: Christmas. The unimaginable awe of God as an infant, memories of Midnight Mass and my children’s jaw-dropping wonder as they notice a half-eaten cookie and a hand-written note from Santa. “Where does he find the time?” my son inquired. But that’s Christmas, and this column is about a holiday at the other end of the “significance scale.” It’s called Cinco De Mayo.
Cinco De Mayo means “fifth of May” and is celebrated, yes, on the fifth of May. It also should not be confused with Mexico’s “Independence Day,” which occurs on Sept. 16. If you’re still reading, you may be interested to know that Cinco De Mayo actually “commemorates the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862” (Wikipedia). Even more incredulous, historians report “the victory was short-lived,” for the war was lost, and Mexico later surrendered to France. Yes, you read that right, surrendered to France. I wasn’t aware a nation had ever surrendered to France, but that’s what it says on Wikipedia, so it must be true. Which reminds me of a quote from General George Patton: “I’d rather have a German division in front of me than a French one behind me.” Or this advertisement for a French rifle: “Never fired, dropped twice.”
But I digress.
According to my research, Americans took little note of this battle in 1862, as we’d crushed the Mexican army ourselves about 20 years prior, and our forefathers were then rather busy with a thing called the Civil War (1861-1865). In more recent years, however, Cinco De Mayo has greatly increased in popularity, as “marketers, especially beer companies, capitalized on the celebratory nature of the day and began to promote it” (UPI). To their surprise, marketers have been so successful that millions of Americans now celebrate this Mexican military victory over the French every year. Even more ironic, my brother-in-law, who is originally from Mexico, tells me that Cinco De Mayo is more widely celebrated in the United States than in Mexico. What the?! That just doesn’t seem right. As a flag-waving patriot, I have a policy about not celebrating the military victories of countries other than my own.
Maybe it’s just me, but it also seems odd that Cinco De Mayo is growing in popularity as July 4 parades and Easter bonnets are fading into the past. I’m not sure what it says about our culture, but I’d rather celebrate “National Macaroon Day” (May 31) than some Mexican military victory. Bah, humbug.
So despite the urging of my friends, my lonely, principled boycott of Cinco De Mayo continues.
They tell me that Cinco De Mayo is really just an excuse to party, that few know of its roots in Mexican military history. That it’s more about “celebrating Hispanic heritage” with plastic beads, a click of the castanets and a Corona. OK, that’s fine, making it much like Oktoberfest and St. Patrick’s Day, two holidays that also rank as the “Top Ten Drunkest Holidays” (Time Magazine). But if you’re looking for an excuse to have a beer on May 5, please allow me to offer an alternative. Instead of Cinco De Mayo, raise a toast to Bevrijdingsdag. Granted, it’s un-pronounceable, so it may take a while to catch on. Or you could just use the English translation, “Liberation Day.” You see, Liberation Day is a national holiday in the Netherlands, marking the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. Liberation Day, that has a nice sound to it. And as I recall, it was an American military victory ... and our boys went on to win that war.
I’ll drink to that. Happy Liberation Day, my friends.
Next week: Steve Warnstadt
Brent Hoffman is a former military officer and Pentagon 9/11 survivor. He served on the Sioux City Council and is the owner of Hoffman & Associates. He is a widower and the father of two children, Silas (10) and Lydia (8).
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