So, today is Cinco de Mayo, a holiday in the U.S. that sees an uptick in visits to Mexican restaurants, sales of limes, bottles of Corona, shots of tequila and fake sombreros. I’m not participating. Here’s why.
As someone who writes a lot about alcoholic beverages – most often, beer – it is often assumed that I should comment or post about the holidays in which beer and drinking plays a large role. These “drinking holidays” are made more important to the consumer and public each year, so every time I decide not to write about one of the drinking holidays, I get left out of the sweep of posts all suggesting the same things year after year.
Being a responsible drinker to begin with (yes, even beer writers know how to drink in moderation), the likelihood that I’m going to go out and drink to excess is already low. I do have my moments, though, and celebrating something that has meaning – like a friend’s wedding, a promotion, or engagement – is still something that I enjoy doing.
But, then comes May 5th. Automatically, bars and breweries host events, big brewers put out Mexican-themed (or stereotypically Mexican-themed) advertisements, and an official “drinking holiday” is observed by many – despite having no connection to the holiday’s – or even the culture’s – origin.
There isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with celebrating a holiday from a culture different than yours – if you feel strongly about it, understand its meaning or use it to express the spirit of the celebration. Most of the holidays out that Americans participate in (with the exception of Thanksgiving) are reflective of the various cultures that make up our country – and we are able to celebrate anything that we wish.
But my stomach gets a little uneasy when people start being from a different culture for a day – especially as a thinly-veiled excuse to drink, often to excess, and are backed by major companies.
My challenge to you is to look at how you participate in this holiday, and take a step back.
Quick, what is Cinco de Mayo celebrating? a) Mexican Independence Day, b) A general celebration of Mexican Culture, c) An unlikely, yet completely insignificant victory against the French
If you answered ‘c’ you were probably tipped off by the specificity - but you’d be correct. Cinco de Mayo is the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, which took place in 1862. At that time, Mexico wasn’t paying back their war debts to Europe very timely, so Napoleon III sent troops over to go get their money. While the Mexican army was able to defeat them at this particular battle, it hardly mattered – they were ultimately defeated about a year later. It reflects on a time of poverty, war, and even worse, the incessant attempts of imperialist countries to try and take over Mexico.
But it’s just harmless drinking! Why are you being so crabby?
In your life, there are probably special moments that make up the “culture” of your own individual existence. Imagine if one incident in your life became a national holiday. In this example, let’s say when you were 8 years old, you won an important soccer game against a team that was better than you, and your dad took you out for pizza afterwards to celebrate.
Then, for some reason, every year on that date, everyone you know goes crazy on “pizza day” to celebrate (in theory) the memory of your game-winning goal against whats-his-name the goalie. They eat lots of pizza (a kind that as an adult don’t even like) and just keep referring to you as “pizza kid” even though you are 30 years old, and they live in a completely different town than where you grew up. And, to add insult to injury, you went on to play pro soccer in college, but then tore your ACL and lost your scholarship – now causing you a pang of regret and sadness every time you see a soccer ball or pizza. On the day this happens, the streets are full of people celebrating something without having any idea of what it’s about (something involving pizza!) and completely out of touch with what it actually means to you.
Now imagine that the only reason that “pizza day” became popular is that a major Pizza company wanted to bump sales in a month that wasn’t such a big seller. And now, since the holiday has taken off, it now means that nearly all the pizza makers are getting extra revenue for something you did – for no reason that’s even closely related to the original event.
I hope you can see what I’m getting at. But there’s still time to buck this trend. I challenge the craft beer establishments out there not to give in to this morally questionable marketing push.
Celebrate what you want to, but celebrate for the right reasons.
For me, that means not celebrating just because the highway billboard told me to. What about you?