6 cherished Fiesta traditions every beginner should know
If you're a San Antonio newcomer, Fiesta can be tricky to decipher. It's hard to make heads or tails of why the fashions are so outrageous or why everyone seems to go gaga over chicken on a stick. Still, there's no need to be baffled. Get in on the fun with this handy guide to some of the festival's most cherished traditions.
One of Fiesta's flirtiest traditions has its roots in China, where 13th-century nobility were gifted eggs stuffed with scented powder. When the custom made its way to Mexico, confetti filling made the favors a much more celebratory affair. While it takes seconds to crack cascarones, production is a year-long affair. Shops like the Cascarón Store have done big business creating custom-themed eggs. And volunteers with the Conservation Society of San Antonio spend every Thursday painting the thousands of shells that get shattered during a Night in Old San Antonio (NIOSA).
Chicken on a stick
Meat served on skewers, of course, is no newfangled invention. Historians say it predates Turkey's Ottoman Empire. But in San Antonio, only one speared protein matters — a breaded chicken cutlet crowned by a whole jalapeño. Though it's difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of chicken on a stick, it's most closely associated with one man. A fixture of NIOSA since the '90s, J.J. Gonzales — aka Mr. Chicken — is now synonymous with what has become Fiesta's most iconic carnival treat.
Hats have always been a part of Fiesta. The grandeur of the carriages at the first Battle of Flowers was only matched by their riders' Gilded Age hats. These days, the headgear veers more ridiculous than elegant, with towering adornments ranging from paper mâché Alamos to corn dolly recreations of royal courts. Find them preening at the Woman's Club of San Antonio's annual hat contest and luncheon or strolling the runways of almost every Fiesta event.
When selecting Fiesta gear, be sure to opt for a solid fabric. Those threads will soon be stretched to the limit by a cluster of imaginative medals. The tradition dates to the '40s when the reigning King Antonio would delight children by tossing coins into the parade crowd. In 1971, Charles Orsinger took the idea further by punching holes in the celebratory change. Today, the military-style pins have their own economy — sold by businesses across town and traded feverishly on online groups.
Though San Antonio society has crowned various kings and queens since at least the 1800s, the Order of the Alamo coronated the first Fiesta queen in the 1900s. The Texas Cavaliers followed suit with King Antonio in the 1920s. Although several unofficial royals are part of the 11-day affair, the Fiesta San Antonio Commission only recognizes nine sovereigns, including the people's king, el Rey Feo.
Show us your shoes!
The elaborately stoned and embroidered gowns worn on parade floats aren't exactly featherweight. Who can blame Fiesta royalty for wanting a sturdy foundation? Long ago, San Antonio's queens, princesses, and duchesses abandoned stilettos in favor of more sensible tennis shoes and boots. The crowd soon caught on to the secret, and soon "show us your shoes!" became the Battle of Flowers parade's signature cry. Today, the comfortable footwear — now highly embellished — has become a spectacle of its own.