Welcome to May, the month of flowers and showers, moms, graduates and so much more.
It’s also a month that keeps you moving, racing even.
And this weekend is when all the excitement begins.
Tomorrow is Kentucky Derby Day, the first leg of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown. The actual race may be hundreds of miles away at Churchill Downs in Kentucky, but if you head to Pocono Downs, you might feel close enough, especially if you’re wearing an elaborate hat or sipping a mint julep, the signature race-day drink made of bourbon, sugar and mint.
The party at the Downs is one of at least a couple of local celebrations; another is set for the Westmoreland Club in Wilkes-Barre.
But it won’t be the only traditional hoopla-filled event this weekend. Sunday is Cinco de Mayo, or the fifth of May, a celebration of Mexican culture in the United States. Nevermind that in Mexico, in the state of Puebla, the commemoration of the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War is much more low-key. Here, some of us party like it’s 1862 all over again. (Local Mexican restaurants even need to take the phone off the hook. Read on.)
Then we slide into Mother’s Day, which brings breakfasts and themed teas aplenty as well as plenty of dinners out and even a traditional Indian powwow in Noxen.
And by month’s end, we can’t forget to remember our veterans and others no longer with us during a plethora of Memorial Day parades, ceremonies and picnics, all of which tell us summer is unofficially here.
If your monthly calendar is blank, you can start filling it in now with these biggies:
Derby Day at the Downs
Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Plains Township calls its Kentucky Derby festivities “the biggest Kentucky Derby party north of Churchill Downs.”
The day will kick off with a double-header of live racing at 11 a.m. and 10 races on the early card, said Jennifer Starr, racing marketing manager at Pocono Downs. Pacer’s Clubhouse will host a champagne brunch starting at 11 a.m. that will include tasty dishes such as blueberry-filled pancakes, cheesy grits, seared tenderloin medallions with crab and asparagus, plus many desserts, including pecan pie and minted crème pie. A complimentary glass of sparkling wine will accompany the meal. For reservations, call 831-2100. Dinner reservations are sold out for the day.
Outdoors, the main patio bar will open at 11 a.m., and the track apron’s new concession stands will officially open at 2 p.m., Starr said.
“A huge party tent will also be set up for extra TV viewing of the entire Churchill Downs card,” she said. “The traditional mint juleps will be served in the souvenir Kentucky Derby 139 glasses, and other ice-cold beverages will be offered.”
The ladies, as usual, are encouraged to don elaborately decorated hats for the Run for the Roses Hat Revue. Starr said more than 140 women registered for last year’s review and an even bigger turnout is expected this year.
Hats must be registered between 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. in the lobby, and the revue will start at 5:35 p.m. in front of the Winners Circle. The top prize is $500, and other cash prizes will be awarded, as well as Macy’s gift cards.
Right after the Derby, which will be shown on the jumbo screen, 14 live races are on the Pocono Downs evening card.
“It just keeps growing larger and larger,” Starr said of the annual party. “This is just the second year we’re offering the double-header of races.”
The celebration also will commemorate the life of late Times Leader reporter Van Rose with a race in his honor on the night card.
Rose, who died in December 2011, had worked in news and features but made his mark as a sportswriter. A native of Kentucky, he wrote about horse racing and even owned a few harness-racing horses himself.
The Van Rose Memorial, a pace with a purse of $50,000, will be the 10th race on the night card.
Starr said as many as 10,000 people were at the Downs throughout Derby day last year.
Meanwhile, in downtown Wilkes-Barre, The Westmoreland Club, on 59 South Franklin St., will be the site of the Luzerne County Kentucky Derby Party, an annual fundraiser for the American Heart Association. There will be dancing, and, of course, dinner and silent and live auctions and speakers. The event is set for 6 p.m. Saturday. For reservations, call 822-9438, ext. 3462.
The fifth of May
Saturday’s horse-themed party is quickly followed by multiple Mexican fiestas.
Cinco de Mayo always means good business for local Mexican restaurants.
Cody Kyttle, manager of CK’s Cantina & Grill in Dallas, said that last year, when the business was only a takeout stand, “We had to unplug the phone.”
This year, Kyttle said, “We’re not going to do any pasta dishes or combinations. You could choose only one meat, not a combination, after Friday night.”
El Rincon Latino, a family-owned Mexican eatery on 69 North Main St. in Wilkes-Barre, also decorates festively and runs food and drink specials.
And La Tolteca in Wilkes-Barre Township, where a fire Sunday night cancelled the restaurant’s planned festivities, has moved its celebration to the nearby Woodlands Inn and Resort in Plains Township. The festivities there will run from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.
If listening to Mexican music is your way of celebrating Cinco de Mayo, Jay Steveskey will pay tribute to Mexico’s folk-music heritage by performing songs and dances and Mexican classical guitar music during a concert at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Dietrich Theater in Tunkhannock. Tickets are $10. Call 996-1500.
Finally, Cinco de Mayo is a special celebration at local churches with significant Hispanic populations. A party used to take place at the former Holy Rosary Church on Park Avenue in Wilkes-Barre, which is now merged with St. Nicholas Church in downtown Wilkes-Barre. This year, St. Nicholas, where a Mass is celebrated in Spanish at noon every Sunday, will mark Cinco de Mayo with a Mexican breakfast from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the school cafeteria on Sunday. For tickets, call 570-899-1641.
Remember mama …
Sure you can take your mother out to eat on Mother’s Day, which is May 12, but why not take her to the Mother’s Day Intertribal Powwow, with Native American dancing, drumming, storytelling, children’s dances, fry bread, crafts, beadwork, leatherwork, books, jewelry, blankets and food? The event honors Mother Earth and your own mother simultaneously.
The annual event will take place on the Noxen Fire Company Grounds from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 11 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 12, with Grand Entry in full regalia at noon.
If tea is more your thing, you can honor Mom early at a traditional tea with sandwiches and pastries along with skin analysis, face treatments, mini massages and gifts to the first 100 moms at the Woodhouse Day Spa, 387 Wyoming Ave., Kingston, from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday. The event is free. For reservations, call 763-0063.
… And those no longer with us
Finally, Memorial Day is May 27, and, as usual, memorial services in cemeteries and at monuments will join parades through many local towns to mark the occasion.
But another tradition for this holiday weekend is the Sweet Valley Fair, with food, amusement rides, a White Elephant Sale, vendors and live musical entertainment throughout the weekend and fireworks on Saturday, as well as the Firemen’s Olympics and parade on Memorial Day.
The event will take place at the Sweet Valley Volunteer Fire Company from 5:30 to 10 p.m. May 24, 4:30 to 10 p.m. May 25-26 and 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 27.