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Cinco de Mayo history

Cinco de Mayo, or the fifth of May, is a holiday that celebrates the date of the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. Cinco de Mayo 2018 occurs on Saturday, May 5. A relatively minor holiday in Mexico, in the United States Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a commemoration of Mexican culture and heritage, particularly in areas with large Mexican-American populations.

In 1861, Benito Juárez—a lawyer and member of the indigenous Zapotec tribe—was elected president of Mexico. At the time, the country was in financial ruin after years of internal strife, and the new president was forced to default on debt payments to European governments.

In response, France, Britain and Spain sent naval forces to , Mexico, demanding repayment. Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew their forces.

France,  decided to use the opportunity to carve an empire out of Mexican territory. Late in 1861, a well-armed French fleet stormed Veracruz, landing a large force of troops and driving President Juárez and his government into retreat.

The Battle of Puebla

Certain that success would come swiftly, 6,000 French troops under General Charles Latrille de Lorencez set out to attack  de Los Angeles, a small town in east-central Mexico. From his new headquarters in the north, Juárez rounded up a ragtag force of 2,000 loyal men—many of them either indigenous Mexicans or of mixed ancestry—and sent them to Puebla.

The vastly outnumbered and poorly supplied Mexicans, led by Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza, fortified the town and prepared for the French assault. On May 5, 1862, Lorencez gathered his army—supported by heavy artillery—before the city of Puebla and led an assault.

How Long Did the Battle of Puebla Last?

The battle lasted from daybreak to early evening, and when the French finally retreated they had lost nearly 500 soldiers. Fewer than 100 Mexicans had been killed in the clash.

Although not a major strategic win in the overall war against the French, Zaragoza’s success  on May 5 represented a great symbolic victory for the Mexican government and bolstered the resistance movement. In 1867—thanks in part to military support and political pressure from the United States, which was finally in a position to aid its besieged neighbor France finally withdrew.

The same year, Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, who had been installed as emperor of Mexico in 1864 by Napoleon, was captured and executed by Juárez’s forces. Puebla de Los Angeles was renamed for General Zaragoza, who died of typhoid fever months after his historic triumph there.

Cinco de Mayo in Mexico

Within Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is primarily observed in the state of Puebla, where Zaragoza’s unlikely victory occurred, although other parts of the country also take part in the celebration.

Traditions include military parades, recreations of the Battle of Puebla and other festive events. For many Mexicans, however, May 5 is a day like any other: It is not a federal holiday, so offices, banks and stores remain open.

Chili Rellenos around the world

In Mexico, it consists of a stuffed, roasted, fresh poblano pepper (a large and mild chili pepper named after the city of Puebla), sometimes replaced with a Hatch chile, Anaheim, pasilla or even jalapeño chili pepper. In 1858 it was described as a "green chile pepper stuffed with minced meat and coated with eggs"

In current cuisine, it is typically stuffed with melted cheese, such as queso Chihuahua or queso Oaxaca or with picadillo meat made of diced pork, raisins and nuts, seasoned with canella; covered in an egg batter or simply corn masa flour and fried. Although it is often served in a tomato sauce, the sauces can vary.

Some versions in Mexico use rehydrated dry chiles such as anchos or pasillas.

In the United States, chiles rellenos are usually filled with asadero, asiago,[citation needed] or Monterey Jack cheese, but can also be found with cheddar or other cheeses.] The chile is then dipped in an egg batter and either pan-fried or deep-fried. Chiles rellenos are a popular cuisine in the state of New Mexico, where the Hatch chile is revered for its slender (rather than round) shape and medium-to-hot flavor. In the US, rellenos are typically served with red or green chile sauce or mole.

Variations, which can be seen based on regional tastes or experimentation, include:

  • pecan-encrusted
  • crab-filled
  • inside of a "chile relleno burrito"
  • in a casserole form (which can be more practical for serving groups of people)
  • A recipe from 1914 (as "chili reinas") is published in a period guidebook to San Francisco restaurants.

In Guatemala, the pimiento pepper is stuffed with shredded pork and vegetables. As the Mexican version, it is covered with egg batter and fried. It is served with tomato sauce or inside a bread bun.

History of the Christmas Tamale

In the Southwest and for many Mexican-American families, Christmastime means tamale-time.

Tamales are a tasty package of meats, cheeses or vegetables in a corn-based shell all wrapped up in a corn husk and steamed.

Tamales have been eaten in the Americas for a long, long time. They originated in Mesoamericaand date back thousands of years. The portable food was eaten by Olmec and Toltec hunters, travelers and soldiers, and later by the Aztec and Maya. There’s evidence that the Inca of South America even ate tamales.

This tamale dish is on the menu at Tia's Cocina, located at Hotel Chimayo de Santa Fe.

So why tamales at Christmas?

There are several theories about why this food has become so identifiable with the birth of Christ.

Corn was a very important crop in Mesoamerica, with people believing that people were created from corn. Tamales, because they were wrapped in corn husks, became part of ritual offerings. As a nod to those times, people prepare tamales for special occasions including baptisms, weddings, Dia Del Los Muertos, and, of course, Christmas.

Tamales can also be seen as a symbol of the Virgin Mary, carrying in her the baby Jesus or a mother carrying a future life, especially if the tamale contains an olive.

Making tamales is labor-intensive, so often many are made at once and families and friends are invited over for a day – or more – of togetherness and tamales.

Preparing a tamale’s masa dough correctly or using a good masa dough is the most crucial aspect of making the perfect tamale, according to our Executive Chef Tony Trujillo. The dough is made from a base of large-kernal corn that has been dried, cooked in a mixture of water and calcium oxide and then drained, dried and ground into a flour. Chef Trujillo says the dough for the perfect tamale should not be too dry.

How Quinceañeras Work

A quinceañera celebrates a girl’s 15th birthday.

For Hispanic girls in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the United States and elsewhere, the 15th birthday marks the most lavish celebration of their lives. Designating a girl’s transition from childhood to adulthood, the quinceañera is a two-part festivity that traces back to both indigenous and European cultural traditions and has become an increasingly opulent affair in recent years. Parents may even spend more on their daughters' "Sweet 15" quinceañeras than their weddings, in fact, which is why some refer them as mini bodas, or miniature weddings. Not counting the birthday presents a young girl might receive, a low-end quinceañera in the United States can easily cost about $3,000 

One look at a quince girl (a nickname for the quinceañera honoree) on her special day, and the high price tag makes sense. First off, there's the outfit: Often made of satin with lace overlays and rhinestone accents, quinceañera dresses, the visible centerpieces of these celebrations, mirror what Cinderella might’ve worn to her fairytale ball. The floor-length gowns are traditionally white or pale pink, but the revived quinceañera culture accepts dresses in a rainbow of hues. Perched on the quince girl’s head is a delicate tiara or crown, the symbolism of which we’ll discuss later in the article, and in her hands -- at least at the beginning of the ceremony -- she might hold a Bible or book of prayer.

Although its emphasis is more on the party than the prayer, the quinceañera starts at the local Catholic church. Before any birthday cake is cut, the quince girl attends a special Mass in which she reaffirms her dedication to God and receives a blessing from the priest. Afterward, the Sweet 15 reception gets underway, typically involving some combination of choreographed dance sequences, limousine arrivals, sumptuous spreads of food and desserts, and an official presentation of the quince girl to fiesta attendees. Similar to cotillion and debutante traditions, quinceañeras serve as young Hispanics’ official entrance into society and womanhood and incorporate a host of unique elements and rituals that celebrate girls’ birthdays, as well as their heritage.

The prom-like gown may be the central quinceañera tradition, but it isn't the only fancy dress featured in the celebration. Quinceañera custom calls for 14 damas, or maiden attendants, to accompany the quince girl and symbolize the past 14 years of her life. And of course, a group of young maidens needs a corresponding set of escorts, which means the quince girl must also select 15 chambelans, or male attendants in tuxedos.

The first stop during a quinceañera is the Church, where a quince girl must receive a special blessing from the priest and commit herself to protecting her sexual virginity and spiritual devotion. There, she will also leave a bouquet of flowers at the altar or near a statue of the Virgin Mary to further symbolize her purity. Symbolically abandoning her childhood and becoming a woman, a quince girl gives away a porcelain doll (although looser quince celebrations might substitute a stuffed animal or another childhood trinket) to a younger sister or female relative.

Once the quinceañera Mass concludes, a more typical birthday party ensues. What happens during the rest of the quinceañera largely depends on the parents’ budget. In lower income families, relatives and community members may pitch in together, acting as padrinos and madrinas, or godfathers and godmothers, to finance the quinceañera. Beginning in 2007, business owners and non-profits groups in Mexico City began sponsoring annual city-wide quinceañeras, to allow girls from poor families to enjoy the special rite afforded to wealthier Hispanics 

One of the final rituals of a quinceañera is the changing of the quince girl’s shoes. After the eating, drinking and dancing, the quince girl’s father will remove the flat-soled slippers his daughter wore to the party and replace them with a pair of heels. Thus, the 15-year-old who sashayed into the quinceañera as a girl will stride out and back home as a young woman. And as we’ll learn on the next page, this highly stylized rite of passage isn’t a recent invention, but rather a cultural homage to coming out ceremonies orchestrated by Aztec high priests in the early 1500s

To visually trace the origins of quinceañera festivities that happen in the United States, run a finger down a map of the Western hemisphere into the heart of the Mexico. In that ancestral home of the Aztec Indians, whose empire thrived during the 1400s and early 1500s, young girls were considered marriage-ready at the age of 15  As a result, they went through ceremonial rites of passage that included parental speeches beseeching their adolescent daughters to become wise, upstanding wo. Then the Spanish invaded modern-day Mexico and overthrew the Aztecs in the 1520s, bringing their European influence to the indigenous people. The upper class debutante aspects of quinceañera likely emerged as a result of that .Quinceañera as we know it today, celebrated by thousands of girls around Central America and the estimated 400,000 Hispanic girls who turn 15 every year in the U.S., actually didn’t become ingrained in the Hispanic cultural fabric until recently. Prior to the 1960s, quinceañeras were occasions reserved for the upper classes.  As more Latinos have immigrated to the U.S. and their communities have assimilated into American society, quinceañeras have spread across all rungs of socioeconomic classes as a newfound expression of ethnic pride both in the United States and Latin America. In the same way that American rites and customs easily traverse state lines, quinceañeras have also become a shared tradition throughout Latin America, including cordoned-off Cuba. In this way, these Sweet 15s have become as much a way to commemorate the past as celebrate the future.

The growing popularity of quinceañeras hasn’t always sat well with the Catholic Church, however. A quince girl’s public commitment of faith is an integral part of the event, but the surrounding regalia has threatened to completely overshadow any religious spirit, especially as quinceañera budgets often balloon beyond $25,000 [source: Plummer]. In 1990,the Los Angeles Archdiocese issued stricter guidelines for permitting quinceañera Masses, including rules that attempt to limit the size of the quinceañera parties at Mass and allow priests to bless multiple quince girls at once, since the parties were beginning to constrain the number of weddings and baptisms churches could perform .

But even the protestations of priests haven’t stopped the swell of Sweet 15s. The quinceañera industry now tops $400 million in the United States, which makes sense since -- in addition to invitations, venues, cake and beverages -- these birthday affairs naturally revolve around gifts galore.


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