Cinco de Mayo

May 5

Today we celebrate Mexican Independence Day!

Wait, no. That’s September 16.

Today we celebrate the birthday of Benito Juarez!

Uh, no, that’s March 21.

Constitution Day?

February 5.

Revolution Day?

November 20.

Flag Day?

February 24.

So what the heck is Cinco de Mayo!?

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Which is when Mexico kicked their French booty all the way back to Paris.

Actually, no. Though the French lost the battle, they conquered Mexico City a year later and installed a puppet dictatorship under this Austrian dude:

Maximilian I

So remind me, why on earth do we celebrate Cinco de Mayo like it’s the Mexican 4th of July?

Well, first of all, the Mexicans don’t. Only the Americans do, and the people of Puebla, Mexico. Mexican banks are open today, as are schools, government buildings and just about everything else. There are no ad campaign blitzes featuring Corona, and no parades outside of Puebla. The reason Cinco de Mayo is celebrated so vigorously in El Norte is one of North America’s greatest mysteries.

Though not strategically significant, the Battle of Puebla was a powerful symbolic victory for Mexico in the 1860s. The Mexican-American War in the 1840s and the Mexican Civil War a decade later bankrupted the country. To get Mexico back on its feet, President Benito Juarez declared a two-year moratorium on payment of foreign debts. Creditors England, Spain and France did not take the news well. They decided to get back their money the old-fashioned way: they invaded.

Juarez was able to reach agreements with Spain and England, which went on their merry way, but France had other plans. Napoleon III wanted to rule Mexico by proxy, perhaps to make up for that teensy land sale known as the Louisiana Purchase.

The overconfident French army set out for the Mexican capital assured of an easy victory. 6,500 well-trained French troops met up with under 4,500 ill-equipped Mexican troops under General Ignacio Zaragoza near the city of Puebla. The French were so certain of their success, they attacked Zaragoza’s forces at their strongest point. The result was catastrophic. Zaragoza’s troops suffered minimal losses while inflicting heavy casualties on the French, even chasing them in retreat.

The battle provided a much needed boost to Mexican patriotism and morale by proving that a nation still on training wheels could defeat a European power with one of the strongest armies in the world.

The victory was short lived. After hearing of Puebla, Napoleon III diverted almost 30,000 troops to Mexico. Maximilian entered Mexico City the following year and was crowned Emperor.

The reason the holiday is so important to Chicanos in the United States may be because the war against the French represented the first collaboration between Mexico and the U.S. since the Mexican-American War. Mexican-American societies from Texas to California supported their former homeland with volunteers, money, and supplies. The Vienna-born Emperor Maximilian was ousted in 1867, and Benito Juarez, the Zapateco Amerindian peasant-turned-priest-turned-lawyer-turned-President, became leader of Mexico once more. But that’s a story for another day.

Benito Juarez


Greenery Day – Japan

May 4

A small cloud has fallen
The white mist hits the ground
My lungs comfort me with joy.

Green Day, by Green Day

Ok, the above’s not a Japanese haiku, nor is about today’s holiday. (It bears more in common with one that takes place on 4/20) But today is “Midori no Hi”—literally Green Day, or Greenery Day. Midori means Green—hence the green, melon-based liqueur—and Hi means Day.

Greenery Day (Midori no Hi) originated from the celebration of the birthday of the late Emperor Hirohito, who reigned for most of the 20th century. In Japan, he’s known as the “Showa” Emperor. Showa means harmony, or enlightened peace, or the “search for balance between two different, often opposing elements”. (It is also a Japanese glove company.)

In Japan, the reigning Emperor’s birthday is a national holiday; after the Showa Emperor died in 1989, the Japanese people wanted to continue celebrating his birthday (April 29). They chose the name Greenery Day after the late Emperor’s love of nature. Between 1989 and 2006, Greenery Day was celebrated on April 29.

Beginning in 2007, the Japanese government renamed April 29 “Showa no Hi” (Showa Day) to formally honor the late Emperor, and moved Greenery Day to May 4.

Why May 4?

May 4 was already a holiday (and no we’re not talking about Star Wars Day). May 4 falls between two major holidays, Constitution Day and Children’s Day. And in Japan, any day that falls between two holidays is a holiday itself. [My kind of country. –Ed.] Besides, Greenery Day sounds better than Generic National Holiday.

Falling in the middle of Spring, Greenery Day is a time to commune with nature and enjoy the outdoors.

Showa Day, Constitution Day, Greenery Day, and Children’s Day make up what’s known as Golden Week in Japan. (Technically, Showa Day is an independent holiday, not part of Golden Week, but we’re not technical here.) Golden Week is one of, if not the biggest week for travel in the Japanese calendar. It makes American Thanksgiving look like a Wednesday in February. So if you’re traveling in Japan this week, hopefully you made all your arrangements in the Bronze Age.

Midori no Hi — Transparent Language Japanese blog

Showa Day holiday —

Constitution Day – Japan & Poland

May 3

May 3 is Constitution Day in two countries on opposite sides of the globe.

May 3 Constitution, by Jan Matejko, 1891

Poland’s most recent constitution dates only to 1997, but it stems from the Constitution of May 3, 1791, one of the oldest codified constitutions in the world. Only the Constitution of the United States is older. [The Constitution of San Marino dates to 1600, but apparently is not codified enough to compete with the big boys. — Ed.]

The 1997 Constitution was a response to Poland’s changing position in the world, from a one-party socialist state under the control of its powerful neighbor, the Soviet Union, to a multi-party independent state.

The Japanese Constitution was put into effect on May 3, 1947. Its creation dealt with Japan’s changing role in the world after World War II. The Constitution altered not only the government—a government in which the Emperor would have less say in matters of state—but also the Japanese way of life. The Constitution protects standard basic freedoms, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, but goes one step further. Article 19, for example, proclaims:

“Freedom of thought and conscience shall not be violated.”

One of the most long-reaching impacts of the Constitution is Article 9, which deals with the renunciation of warfare:

“Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

So you’re probably thinking, No military? I could go over there with a dinghy and a BB gun and take over the country!

You would be met with a surprisingly powerful defense force. Japan still maintains its ability to defend its homeland, and…

“By 1990 estimates of Japan’s defense budget were that it was either the third or fourth largest in the world and Japan’s SDF was a high technology fighting force.”

The Rule of Law in Japan — Carl F. Goodman

Japan’s Constitution Day falls right in the middle of “Golden Week”, a congruence of four holidays, beginning with Showa Day (April 29) and ending with Children’s Day (May 5).

Japan’s Commission on the Constitution — the Final Report, 1980

Scrapbooking Day

May 3

Stop all the clocks, log out of AIM
Sign off of scrabble, don’t start a new game
Shut the TV, the laundry will wait
Ignore the doorbell and lock the front gate
Silence the mobile, put the iPad away.
Today is National Scrapbooking Day.

Words are inadequate when describing to an NSB (Non-ScrapBooker) the maniacal frenzy with which SBs subscribe to their passion.

Most people (outside of Utah) go about their normal day completely oblivious to the enormity and severity of this growing cult. Its followers are young and old. From every state and every province. From families rich and poor, and all walks of life.  Two generalizations you can make about the scrapbooker: she is almost always female, and usually a mother.

‘Kara’ of Non-Scrapbookers Anonymous confesses:

I am a failure as a mom…I have a lot of friends who scrapbook and an overzealous sister-in-law who is convinced she can convert me into being a scrapbooker. But, I have no desire…

‘Kerrie’ of Feminist Mormon Housewives writes:

I feel like a complete outsider…I’m not feminine or crafty. I installed a light in the kitchen and rewired two switches today, which seems more practical and sensible to me than spending $30 and four hours making two scrapbook pages.

We’re not just talking about scrapbooking stores and scrapbooking books. There are scrapbooking seminars, scrapbooking conferences, scrapbooking chat rooms, scrapbooking tours, and yes, scrapbooking cruises. The cruises alone are becoming an industry in themselves, with trips to Alaska, Mexico, the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean.

The good news about scrapbooking is that it is rarely fatal. The bad news is that there is no known cure. And that family members, however resistant, can fall victim to ‘second-hand scrapbooking.’

Dan‘ writes:

I am an unwilling participant in this scrapbooking cult because I am [my wife] Kelly’s better half. She drags me to her events so I can do all the “manly” things…carrying bags, putting together decorations, carrying bags, getting food when “my girls” are hungry, and setting up tables.

That was the last anyone ever heard from Dan.

I can personally attest to the extent of this growing epidemic. The last time I drove through Utah, I stopped in a small town–if you can call it that–that had nothing but a gas station and a scrapbooking store.

And also by virtue of the fact that I have a mother QSB (Queen ScrapBooker) who routinely inducts her sons’ significant others into this cult. (The Scrapbooking cult operates much like Facebook Vampires, where you get points for how many you infect.)

The Church of Latter-Day Saints receives credit (or the blame) for spearheading the modern scrapbooking craze. “BYU scientists have overwhelmingly concluded that scrapbooking is hard-coded into every LDS mothers genetic makeup.” (Husbands Unite, 2008.) But scrapbooking is anything but modern or new. America’s greatest author Mark Twain himself was an avid scrapbooker. In 1872 he even patented a “self-pasting” scrapbook. 13 years later, while Twain had earned $200,000 from his written books, he had made $50,000 just from the scrapbook. (St. Louis Dispatch, 6/8/1885).

In 1884 the Norristown Herald went so far as to exclaim, “No library is complete without the Bible, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain’s Scrap Book.”

Of course part of its success may be due to Twain’s marketing genius:

“I hereby certify that during many years I was afflicted with cramps in my limbs, indigestion, salt rheum, enlargement of the liver, & periodical attacks of inflammatory rheumatism complicated with St. Vitus’s dance, my sufferings being so great that for months at a time I was unable to stand upon my feet without assistance, or speak the truth with it. But as soon as I had invented my Self-Pasting Scrap Book & begun to use it in my own family, all these infirmities disappeared.

“In disseminating this universal healer among the world’s afflicted, you are doing a noble work, & sincerely hope you will get your reward–partly in the sweet consciousness of doing good, but the bulk of it in cash.

Very Truly Yours

Mark Twain


Happy Scrapbooking Day.

Not that you need an excuse.

Scrapbooking Has Moved On

Mark Twain’s Most Profitable Book?

Dos de Mayo Uprising

May 2

Goya's "Dos de Mayo, 1808"

“The population of Madrid, led astray, has given itself to revolt and murder. French blood has flowed. It demands vengeance…”

— Joaquim Murat, 1808

Guerrilla warfare. To any kid who’s failed a spelling bee because of one of the most misspelled words in the English language, you’re in good company. Before learning the proper spelling, I too assumed it was war that took place deep in the African jungle.

The term ‘guerrilla warfare’ is used to describe tactics adopted by small militias and individual fighters, often in Third World countries, to engage larger occupying forces in small skirmishes rather than large battles. It comes from the Spanish word “guerra”, meaning war. And though guerrilla warfare has been a key component in dozens of South American conflicts over the last century, the term guerrilla hails from the other side of the Atlantic, from a conflict that began 200 years ago in Madrid.

In 1807 Napoleon signed an alliance treaty with Spain, which effectively split the country of Portugal between Spain and France. Portugal was taken without hardly firing a shot.

The following February, however, Napoleon turned on his Spanish ally. (A history lesson not lost on Hitler.) Napoleon didn’t even need to invade Spain; for the country was already inundated with French troops who had crossed the border under the pretense of invading Portugal. Meanwhile, Spain’s troops were scattered from Denmark to Portugal, many of them on loan to Napoleon. Spain was, militarily speaking, screwed.

Add to the plot a cast of wacky feuding royals (In March, Prince Ferdinand overthrew his father King Charles IV with the support of a discontented Spanish public) and you have the makings of a full-on Peninsular War.

Napoleon ingeniously played the Spanish royal pair against each other, calling father Charles and son Ferdinand up to French Bayonne for a little ‘mediation‘. [pronounced: ‘im·pri′son·mènt’]

Come Leap Day, French troops entered Barcelona–by pretending to be a convoy of wounded–(and you wonder why the Spanish don’t trust the French?)–and took the city. The French general Murat entered Madrid the following month.

Joaquim "I'm Too Sexy For My Haircut" Murat

About this time the Madrilenos began thinking maybe their beef was not with either of their kings, but with the French. Napoleon ordered the remainder of the Spanish royal family, including Charles’ 25 year-old daughter Maria Louisa, her uncle Don Antonio, and her little brother, the preteen Francisco de Paula, to join them in French Bayonne for a little more ‘mediation’.

The following morning had been fixed for the departure of the Queen of Etruria [Maria Louisa] and the Infante D. Francisco de Paula, and many persons, chiefly women, collected before the Palace to see them off…and some of the populace” were “determined that the last of the royal family should not be taken from them without resistance...” History of the Peninsular War (Southey)

An armed riot broke out, and Murat’s forces fired on the crowd. Soon, street fighting erupted through Madrid, focusing around the palace and the Puerta del Sol.

For a short time the Madrilenos pushed back the surprised French guards, but Murat sent in reinforcements, and quashed the outgunned Spanish rebels by nightfall.

Goya's The Third of May, 1808

On May 3, hundreds of Spanish rebels were executed by firing squad. News of the mass killings spread throughout Spain and the Spanish resistance was born. Guerrillas, referring to ‘little wars’ and the soldiers who fought them, changed the course of the Napoleonic era, not by defeating the French in large, decisive battles, but by engaging them in a steady stream of small attacks over thousands of square miles.

In February Napoleon had bragged he could take Spain with 12,000 men. He did take Spain, but he had to divert 160,000 of his troops from other battles to do it.

Napoleon called the guerrillas his ‘Spanish ulcer’. In 1813 British, Portuguese, and Spanish forces expelled French troops from the Iberian peninsula for good.

Mayday Mayday

May 1

I was taught in elementary school that we didn’t celebrate May Day anymore because it was a Communist holiday.

Not only was this a lame excuse not to celebrate a holiday, it also wasn’t true.

In ancient and medieval Europe, seasons were determined not by equinoxes and solstices, but by the days that fell directly in between, known as “cross-quarter days.” The first cross-quarter day of the year is Groundhog Day or Candlemas, between winter solstice and spring equinox. The second is today, May Day, which once marked the beginning of summer.

May Day traditions such as creating floral wreaths date back to the Romans and Celts (Beltane), and survived well into the 20th century, including dancing around the Maypole and crowning a ‘May Queen.’

Mizzou, Missouri, 1911

In the 19th century May Day became a standard date for workers to re-negotiate contracts with employers. One reason may be because it was one of the few days off workers had that wasn’t a Sunday (church day) or a religious holiday. Thus, as communities got together to celebrate, the workers–usually the fathers of the family–could also unite for better wages or working conditions.

Over time May Day was adopted by (or hijacked by, depending on your politics) communist, socialist and labor groups. May Day fell out of favor in the U.S. where the first of May is celebrated with other, more patriotic holidays, including:

  • Law Day
  • Loyalty Day
  • National Day of Prayer (1st Thursday in May)

and the more casual

  • Lei Day.

Lei Day is, believe it or not, the oldest of those four holidays. It’s the Hawaiian version of May Day, dating to the 1920s. Loyalty Day, Law Day, and National Day of Prayer were officiated in the 1950s under Presidents Truman and Eisenhower.

In the United States, Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September.

Even though May Day was seen as a communist import in America, it was in Chicago, Illinois, that May Day gained notoriety as a day for workers and eventually became the international holiday known as Labour Day.

Oh, and the distress call ‘Mayday! Mayday!‘ has nothing to do with the holiday. It’s from the French venez m’aider, meaning ‘come help me.’

Labour Day

May 1

In the mid-1800s May 1 was the de facto date for labor groups to re-negotiate rates with employers, precisely because May 1 marked the beginning of the summer. Workers were in greater demand in summer than in the winter months, which gave them more bargaining power. Also, the traditional holiday May Day was one of the few days workers had off that wasn’t spent at church.

As societies became more industrialized, May Day workers’ gatherings increased in number and intensity.

The first of two major Chicago strikes occurred on May 1, 1867. Labor unions in Chicago had been able to get an ‘eight-hour day’ bill passed in the Illinois state legislature, but couldn’t get it enforced. They declared a strike on May 1; the strike collapsed within a week.

In 1884, the newly formed Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (later the AFL) declared that an 8-hour workday would take effect on May 1, 1886, with or without government legislation. The implication being that any district where this law was not implemented would be effectively shut down.

On May Day, 1886, over a quarter million workers walked off the job across the United States—40,000 in Chicago alone. Over the next few days the Chicago numbers rose to 100,000.

On May 3, police shot and killed two strikers when a scuffle broke out at the McCormick Reaper Works between strikers and “scabs” coming to replace them.

Anarchists organized a rally the following day. Relations were already tense between the police and the strikers, and flyers asked workers to “arm yourselves and appear in full force.”

Miraculously the Haymarket rally was peaceful right up until the end. The mayor had even gone home from the rally, sensing no danger from the dwindling crowd.

At 10:30 in the evening the last speaker finished his speech to a crowd of about 300.  Suddenly, as the police moved in to disperse the demonstrators, a homemade bomb was hurled into a throng of officers. The blast and the ensuing violence killed 7 officers and wounded another 60. Police fired into the crowd after the blast, killing an unknown number of demonstrators.

The Haymarket tragedy resulted in the execution of 4 anarchist leaders and a wide-spread government crackdown on not only extremists, but on unions and the labor movement in general. The government’s reaction to Haymarket became a rallying point for unions and socialist organizations in Europe and Asia as well as North America.

The first international labor strike for the eight-hour day occurred on May 1, 1890 partly in tribute to the Haymarket tragedy. As mentioned before, outside the U.S., May Day is called Labour Day or International Workers’ Day.

May Day violence continues to this day. A peaceful immigration demonstration in Los Angeles on May 1, 2007, ended with police firing rubber bullets at demonstrators. (News footage of the event resulted in the retraining of the LAPD to handle crowd control events through the extraction of individual agitators instead.)

In 2008, all ports on the West Coast came to a halt on May Day when the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union went on strike to protest the war in Iraq. Demonstrations in Germany and Turkey ended in unexpected violence.