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History behind festivals

Many Americans have the mistaken belief that the celebration of Cinco de Mayo pays tribute to Independence Day in Mexico. Here is the history.

Sept. 16 is Mexican Independence Day commemorating the 1810 independence from Spanish rule as the Spanish colonial government.

Cinco de Mayo — in English, the fifth of May — celebrates the Battle of Puebla in 1862, 50 years after Mexico’s independence from Spain. In 1861, the president of Mexico, Benito Juárez realized his country had debts they couldn’t pay. They owed Britain, Spain and France. The first two came to a settlement with Mexico, but France did not and the French invaded Mexico. The Franco-Mexican War continued during the years 1861 to 1867. At the Battle of Puebla the Mexican army defeated France, on May 5, 1862, giving hope to Mexico. With assistance from the U.S., Mexico finally defeated France and regained their country’s sovereignty. Juárez was put back into his role of president.



In the 1960s a group of American born, but of Mexican descent people, promoted the idea of a festival on the fifth of May. The idea grew and now it is a bigger holiday in the United States than it is in Mexico. The one exception is the town of Puebla where the battle occurred. The day has some meaning to the country of Mexico but in the U.S., it is primarily an excuse for partying.

Another commemoration that reaches for meaning to Americans is Kwanzaa. It was created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a professor in California. Deemed by him as an African holiday, yet advanced throughout the world as a way to bring people together, it is definitely for African-American families. The activities are family oriented with each family determining how they will celebrate. One candle per night over seven nights is lighted, with the first candle being black. Songs, dancing, African drums and of course celebratory meals are part of the festivities.



St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated for a man who wasn’t even Irish. After a not-easy childhood (he was kidnapped and imprisoned for most of six years,) eventually he escaped and ended up in France where he studied in a monastery. After several years he went, with the Pope’s blessing, to Ireland to teach about Christianity. One of his teachings was the clover with three leaves, known as a shamrock represents the Trinity, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Legend has it that Patrick led all of the snakes out of Ireland, to the sea, where they drowned. Patrick died March 17, A.D. 461 and that is the day he is celebrated. I wonder what a sainted man has in common with the current mode of celebration — drinking green beer, and often to excess.

One Catholic commentator, Mike McCormack, wrote, “The difference between Paddy’s Day and Saint Patrick’s Day is the same as the difference between the office Christmas Party and Midnight Mass. The only thing they have in common is the date.”

That pretty well sums it up.

Peggy writes from the family farm near Oral, S.D. Her internet latchstring is out at peggy@peggysanders.com.


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Peggy Sanders

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