5 de Mayo – Fun and Facts

I’ll bet you $5 bucks 5 De Mayo is NOT Mexican Independence Day!”
Hands down 5 de Mayo is my favorite holiday to celebrate in the USA! Why? Well, because it is a fun excuse to run around in a sombrero, drink delicious mexican imported beers and eat yummy guacamole and pico de gallo!

Once the date gets closer to the 5th of May or “5 de Mayo,” across the USA you will begin to hear about the “5 de Mayo” specials, the “5 de Mayo” celebrations and house parties beginning to form for the special holiday in the weeks ahead. All the grocery stores you walk into have the tortilla chips, salsa dips, mexican imported beer and margarita mix all ready on the store’s biggest displays. They arrange all the fun food items, beverage items and paraphernalia in a way that you could almost buy it as packaged deal. Any Mexican Restaurant you pass are generally decorated over the top, full of specials and “5 de Mayo” happy hours and loud music to attract any “5 de Mayo” fan.

The most shocking thing that I have found that some Americans confuse the “5 de Mayo” holiday for “Mexican Independence Day” or even worse “Mexican New Year.” I am lucky to have dual citizenship. This means I am both American and Mexican. So I try to keep up with history on both sides of the border. I love to make joking bets with friends while they sip on their Coronas and truly believe that we are celebrating “Mexican Independence Day.”

The 5th of May is not nearly celebrated in Mexico as in the USA. 5 de Mayo marks a day in the year 1862, when the Mexican Army won a battle in Puebla, Mexico against the French Army. General Ignacio de Zaragoza fortified the Cerro de Guadalupe against the French invaders, and on May 5th 1862, his 2000 men defeated a frontal attack by 6000, many handicapped by diarrhea. This rare Mexican military is the excuse for annual celebrations and hundreds of streets named 5 de Mayo. Few seem to remember that the following year the reinforced French took Puebla and occupied the city until 1867.  Touché! Nowadays on 5th of May, all Mexican men that registered for military service have to swear their loyalty to the national flag and the institutions that they represent. This year it will be 150 years since the Battle of Puebla and the city Puebla will host a unique festival with a re-enactment of the battle.

And for those of you who wonder: Mexican Independence Day is actually on September 16th.

5 de Mayo has become a holiday where Americans celebrate Mexican culture and just have fun. You can almost compare it to St. Patricks Day in the USA, which we claim we are celebrating the Irish. Like most holidays in the USA, it is a great excuse to gather with friends and family and have fun.

Happy 5 de Mayo !!!!

– Dancing Chef Melissa

Noche de Muertos – remembering the souls of the departed

You might have heard about this typical Mexican tradition or found yourself looking an altar for Noche de Muertos. It seems a little creepy at first, when you see the sugar skulls and images of dancing skeletons. Death in Mexico isn’t necessarily a sad thing. Often celebrations of Noche de Muertos can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.

Noche de Muertos is a tradition that traces back to the Aztecs, Toltecs, Chichimecas and Mayas. Their rituals to honor death were mixed with the Catholic celebrations All-Saints day (Nov 1st) and All-Souls day (Nov 2nd) back in the time of the Spanish conquest. Traditions connected with this holiday include building private altars at home or at the office honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, ‘pan de muertos’ (sweet egg bread) and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. According to popular belief, during the 1st and 2nd of November the souls of the departed come back to their homes or graves to enjoy the delicious dishes that their families have prepared for them.

Each region has its own way of celebrating Noche de Muertos. For example, in the area around the Lake of Pátzcuaro in Michoacan, the tradition is very different if the deceased is a child rather than an adult. On November 1 of the year after a child’s death, the godparents set a table in the parents’ home with sweets, fruits, pan de muerto, a cross, a rosary (used to ask the Virgin Mary to pray for them) and candles. This is meant to celebrate the child’s life, in respect and appreciation for the parents. There is also dancing with colorful costumes, often with skull-shaped masks and devil masks in the plaza or garden of the town. At midnight on November 2, the people light candles and ride winged boats called mariposas (Spanish for “butterflies”) to Janitzio, an island in the middle of the lake where there is a cemetery, to honor and celebrate the lives of the dead there. Other people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives. In many places, people have picnics at the grave site as well.

Mazatlan celebrates in its own exuberant way. Home to the biggest beer brewery on the Pacific coast, during Noche de Muertos there is a donkey pulling a cart with barrels of beer from where the alcohol flows freely. The beer cart drives along altars that have been set-up in the historic centre. There is one person that embodies ‘Death’ as a beautiful lady dressed in black with a veil. In the procession there is Sinaloan ‘banda’ music playing live and there are many people that are dressed up as ‘calacas’ (colloquial name for skeletons) that dance to the music. The celebration is not solemn, but more festive. You have to experience it, to see that Noche de Muertos isn’t scary at all!




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