Inside the Capitol

Friday, April 25, 2008

5-5 Unusual Reasons for Holidays

MON, 5-05-08

DOWN UNDER - Cinco de Mayo is a good example of the seemingly unexplainable nature of how some events come to be celebrated annually and widely while others don't. And we found another major example way down here.
The event celebrated by Cinco de Mayo was a pretty big deal at that time and in that place. The United States had fairly easily snatched away half of Mexico 15 years earlier. One of the French Napoleons figured it shouldn't be difficult to take the rest and strengthen France's holdings in the Caribbean area. Besides, America was busy fighting with itself in 1862.
The French landed at Veracruz, expecting a cakewalk to Mexico City. But Mexican Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza, with an army composed largely of locals and Indians unexpectedly beat them back at Puebla. The governor-general proclaimed a national festival in honor of the glorious event.
Even though such proclamations have been made often throughout history, few of them stick. It is surprising that this one did because shortly thereafter, the French regrouped and marched to Mexico City, subsequently taking over the country.
Mexico still celebrates Cinco de Mayo although not to the extent it celebrates its independence from Spain on September 16, 1821, after 11 years of fighting. In military terms, the victory at Puebla was inconsequential. But it was a moral victory for a nation that wasn't winning many battles at the time. So its celebration survived.
In the United States, however, the situation is reversed. Cinco de Mayo is the big celebration. Why? My answer is that beer distributors have latched onto it as a great time for a big party to usher in the summer season. It falls between Easter week and Memorial Day. Neither are times for boozing it up.
So timing is everything, which may explain why some bigger events go virtually unnoticed. September 16, for instance, falls shortly after Labor Day, the last big party of the summer. School has started and football has captured the national imagination. That may explain why we also don't celebrate other September events like Victory in Japan and Constitution Day.
We celebrate the end of World War I on Nov. 11, but don't even recognize the end of World War II in Europe or Japan. Is it the dates? April and September. Is it that we don't want to hurt the feelings of Germany and Japan? Is it because we dropped the Big One to end the war?
We have just celebrated ANZAC Day down here at the bottom of the world. ANZAC is the Australia, New Zealand Army Corps, which fought 93 years ago to capture Constantinople, open a way to the Black Sea for the Allied Navy and to knock Turkey and the Ottoman Empire out of the war.
It was planned as a bold stroke to surprise the enemy and quickly turn the tide of the war in the Middle East. But the April 25, 1915 invasion met with fierce resistance and by the end of December, the Australia and New Zealand forces withdrew, having suffered over 8,000 casualties.
Although the campaign was a failure and although Australia and New Zealand have won many battles over the intervening years, April 25 is celebrated as "one of the most important occasions" in the history of Australia and New Zealand, according the opening speech at a pre-dawn ceremony held aboard our cruise ship this morning.
In preparation for ANZAC Day, poppies, real and artificial, have been offered for a contribution at all our ports of call this week. Proceeds go to disabled veterans. Most passengers proudly displayed the poppies on their shirts.
I remember poppy days in the United States years ago. What happened to them? Were they a casualty of the War on Drugs, since poppies are involved in opium production? It certainly isn't because the U.S. Government is taking care of all the needs of disabled vets.

Spell a grand slam in this game where word skill meets World Series. Get in the game.


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