Today, while being bombarded with Cinco de Mayo stuff on the interwebs, I was surprised to learn that May 5th is not, as I and many others believed, the celebration of Mexican independence. Independence Day for Mexico celebrates their separation from Spain and is sometime in September. So what is May 5th, then? Is it a day chosen at random by a consortium of tequila manufacturers on which an entire nation is encouraged to consume their satanic brew? Maybe, but it’s also the anniversary of a battle in which a Mexican force defeated a much larger French invasion force. As if defeating a larger French army was unusual, or something. Besides, the French went on to take control of Mexico anyway, so the holiday is of limited celebratory value on its own. Perhaps we should stick with the tequila manufacturer story after all.
All of which puts Cinco de Mayo firmly in a large group of holidays whose origins are widely misunderstood. Secular holidays can often be subject to political intervention, appearing and disappearing as different factions take power. In the US in the late 30’s the annual Meleagris Genocide Day (more commonly known as “Thanksgiving”) was the subject of such bitter partisan wrangling between Republicans and Democrats that for several years it was held on two consecutive weeks depending on which state you lived in. Think of it as an early version of Red State / Blue State but with “4th Thursday” or “Last Thursday” designations.
If secular holidays like May 5th and Thanksgiving can be confused, religious holidays are worse by far, being shrouded in myth, mystery, misinformation, and mistreatment for centuries since the original events. Imagine my surprise today to also learn that it was Easter… at least according to the Eastern Christian church. Had someone told me this earlier I would have gladly stocked up on chocolate again (it’s marked down now anyway) but I refuse to hide all those eggs a second time. Valentine’s Day is another example. Even the Catholic church acknowledges that little is known of St. Valentine other than the fact that he was buried on February 14. This leaves the field wide open for other interpretations of the day, such as those eagerly favored by florists and chocolatiers world wide.
Even Christmas itself, the mother of all holidays in North America, is open to confusion and interpretation and is celebrated by the Eastern Church sometime in January. The real reason for this divide, I’m pretty sure, is because Jesus never revealed his actual birthday while he was alive, no doubt to keep his age a secret. I mean, 33 is pretty young to be starting a whole new religion and if you’re a little touchy about your age the last thing you want to be doing is celebrating your birthday. He probably told Peter and Simon that it was Dec 25 and told Matthew and Luke that it was in mid-January knowing that they’d compare notes and, being reluctant to accuse JC of lying to one of them, they’d prefer to just let the whole thing slide rather than risk throwing the surprise party on the wrong day. After he’d been promoted, of course, it became obvious that it was better to celebrate twice instead of not at all and thus we have two Christmases.
All of which is why I’m in favor of simply inventing new holidays as required, like this newfangled May the Fourth (be with you) silliness that I was bombarded with yesterday. In that same spirit, allow me to be the first to wish you a happy May 6th. As far as I know it’s still open for you to exploit with your very own holiday.