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Cinco por Cinco: 5 Fun Facts About Cinco de Mayo

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Cinco de Mayo may literally translate to “Fifth of May,” but there is a lot more to the annual springtime celebration of Hispanic heritage and culture in the United States than the many margarita-soaked festivities that ensue all over the nation. So before you throw on your sombrero and head to tequila town this Cinco de Mayo, take a shotful of these five hechos you may not have known about the holiday.

1. Victory!

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We drink margaritas on this day because a small, rag-tag group of Mexicans beat the odds and defeated a much larger, well-equipped French army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. The battle was part of the larger Franco-Mexican War that lasted another five years—France wanted to take over the North American country after a cash-strapped Mexico defaulted on some European loans—and resulted in Mexican victory. The first Cinco de Mayo celebrations are said to have occurred in California not long after the conclusion of the Battle of Puebla, where overjoyed Mexican gold miners whooped and hollered and shot off guns and fireworks.

Since then, Cinco de Mayo has become more of an American celebration of Hispanic heritage and culture than a Mexican holiday. Cinco de Mayo earned widespread adoption in the United States during the 1960s and El Movimento (the Chicano Civil Rights Movement), and Congress passed a resolution in 2005 to recognize the “historical significance” of the holiday. 

2. Fiesta

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Los Angeles currently plays host to the world's largest Cinco de Mayo celebration, Fiesta Broadway. Each year, downtown LA blocks off major streets and welcomes hundreds of thousands of people for an afternoon of music, food and crafts in honor of Hispanic heritage. Fiesta Broadway dates back to 1990, and was modeled after Miami's famous Calle Ocho street party.

3. Aye Chihuahua!

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Chandler, Arizona may just take the tequila-soaked cake as far as Cinco de Mayo festivities go for its famous Cinco de Mayo chihuahua races. The town's celebration, recognizing the contribution its Hispanic residents have made to the community, features a fun-filled competition that results in cash prizes for the speediest member of the popular Mexican dog breed and the crowning of a King and Queen Chihuahua.

4. One Tequila, Two Tequila...

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This famous liquor (and the staple of many a modern Cinco de Mayo celebration) is derived from the agave plant. Its modern incarnation is brewed from the blue agave native to the Jalisco region of Mexico, and dates back to the 1500s when the Spanish occupation introduced the European art of distilling. But before that, Aztec civilization had been brewing a beer-like beverage called pulque from a related agave plant (the maguey) for centuries. Only priests could drink it, and how exactly it was invented is the stuff of myth. Several popular legends include one involving a drunken opossum pulling nectar from the plant, and another asserting that ancient gods sent lightning to split the plant and reveal the nectar to humans.

5. Tambien on this Day in History

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Cinco de Mayo shares a date on the calendar with other notable historical events. Carnegie Hall opened on May 5th, 1891. In 1925, John Thomas Scopes was arrested for teaching evolution in a Tennessee school, setting the stage for the Scopes Monkey Trials. On May 5th, 1961, NASA launched the first American-manned space flight piloted by Alan Shepard Jr. (Oh, and Paris Hilton was sentenced to serve jail time on May 5th, 2007.)

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A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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Here Are the Best and Worst Days for Christmas Travel
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Scott Olson/Getty Images

Flight delays are always a hassle, but the holidays add an extra layer of stress. No one wants to be stuck at the airport while their family is digging into Christmas dinner. And even if you fly long before the holiday itself, airports are always more hectic during the holiday season. Between the high volume of travelers and the whims of winter weather, getting off the ground doesn’t necessarily feel like a given when you leave for the airport.

But not all airports and days are equally prone to flight issues, according to U.S. Bureau of Transportation data from the last five years, as analyzed by the electric supply company Elite Fixtures, which previously analyzed the worst airports for Thanksgiving travel.

A green chart lists travel delays and flight cancellation statistics by date.
Elite Fixtures

On average, you’re less likely to be delayed if you’re traveling the week before Christmas or on the holiday itself, the data shows. December 25 has actually had the lowest percentage (18 percent) of delayed flights over the last five years, giving you a good excuse if you want to flee to the airport directly after your family’s holiday meal. Traveling December 18 and 19 is also a good idea, since only 26 percent of flights are typically delayed on those days.

A red chart details travel delay and cancellation statistics by date.
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Beware the 22nd and 23rd of December, though. On those days, an average of 32 percent and 34 percent of flights get delayed, respectively. The few days after Christmas are also likely to stick you with an annoying delay—33 and 34 percent of flights are delayed on the 26th and 27th.

A green-and-gray U.S. map highlights the 10 best airports for holiday travel with plane icons.
Elite Fixtures

Airlines don’t encounter flight difficulties in equal measure across all airports, though. If you’re flying through one of the airports above, congratulations! The likelihood of getting delayed is less than at the Houston or Oakland airports, both hubs with the highest rates of holiday flight delays in the U.S.

Unfortunately, no matter what day you fly and where you fly from, there's no way to really predict whether your flight will leave on time. You'll just have to hope that Santa brings you the seamless holiday travel experience you put on your Christmas list.

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