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Cinco de Mayo: A Great American Holiday

Cinco de Mayo: A Great American Holiday

It is one of the great ironies of Mexican history. Cinco de Mayo (May 5) commemorates the anniversary of Mexico's victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It does not equate to Mexico’s Independence Day (September 16), the most important national holiday in Mexico. Aside from military parades and battle reenactments in Puebla and a few other cities, May 5 is not widely celebrated south of the border. For example, Cinco de Mayo is not a federal holiday. Banks, offices and stores remain open.

North of the border? That is something else again. As a celebration, Cinco de Mayo is a BIG DEAL in the states, even (maybe especially) among people of non-Mexican heritage. This 160-year-old martial victory has been fervently adopted as the day to eat tacos, sip margaritas, drink beer and munch on churros, just like a Mexican fiesta. Cinco de Mayo celebrations reportedly began in California, where they’ve been observed annually since 1863. (Mexican miners in California’s gold country were proud to wave the flag in a show of solidarity against French rule in Mexico).

According to Time magazine, "Cinco de Mayo started to come into vogue in 1940’s America during the rise of the Chicano Movement." The holiday spread from California to the rest of the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s, especially among Mexican immigrants as a way of stirring pride in their heritage.

But the holiday did not gain widespread popularity until the 1980s, when advertising campaigns by beer and spirits companies capitalized on the celebratory nature of the day. These promotions resonated. Today, Cinco de Mayo generates beer sales on par with the Super Bowl and St. Patrick’s Day, which is significant.

Any excuse for a party? Cinco de Mayo, a.k.a. Cinco de Drinko, is a perfect example. While a minor event in Mexico, except in tourist destinations such as Los Cabos, Cancan and Puerto Vallarta, the revelry is robust in the U.S. on May 5.

In addition to Mexican beer and plenty of tequila, the serving of traditional Mexican foods is a big part of a Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Here’s our favorite recipe for Pico de Gallo (rooster’s beak), which pairs well with just about everything on a Mexican-themed buffet table, or as an appetizer with chips. Also called salsa fresca, salsa bandera, or salsa cruda, Pico de Gallo is traditionally made with equal parts tomatoes and onion, fresh cilantro, a dash of salt and pepper, and a generous squeeze of fresh lime juice. Add jalapeno pepper for a spicy kick, or leave it out for a milder version.

Preparation of Pico de Gallo is very simple. No cooking is required. Dice up the ingredients and place in a bowl. Squeeze in the lime juice, season with salt and pepper, stir to combine.

Here’s the secret to making restaurant-quality Pico de Gallo. Start the process on May 4. Why? The key to a delicious Pico de Gallo is in letting it rest. Combine all of the ingredients, cover and refrigerate for a day. The tomatoes will juice up and the flavors will meld so that every bite is an authentic taste of Mexico.