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The origins of three iconic Fiesta traditions in San Antonio

Let’s dive into the history + culture of these annual events.

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Rock out at Oyster Bake during Fiesta.

Photo by SATXtoday team

The week is finally here — all the Fiesta fun is only a few days away and we can’t wait to get in on all the festivities.

An estimated 3.5 million visitors from all over the country flock to our vibrant city to witness this one-of-a-kind celebration of food, arts, and culture. If this isn’t your first Fiesta, chances are, you may have been asked to explain to someone what a fiesta medal is or why chicken on a stick is a thing.

Better than just answering “it just is,” we’re here to explain the origins of three iconic Fiesta traditions.

Oyster Bake obsession explained

Would you be surprised to hear that the Oyster Bake you know today has been in the works for 100+ years? 108 years to be exact — that’s over a third of San Antonio’s existence (founded in 1718, for all you trivia fans).

For first time Oyster Bakers, this two-day festival is commonly referred to as the official Fiesta kick-off event. But this massive mini-music festival featuring a full carnival and 30+ artists has much more humble beginnings.

What started as a St. Mary’s University alumni gathering with a handful of people in 1916 on the banks of the San Antonio river, has now grown to become the university’s single-largest fundraising event with 100% proceeds going towards scholarships. Check out these vintage photos dating back to as early as 1946.

Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect this year.

  • An array of artists with not one, but five stages — check out the full lineup.
  • A firework spectacular on Fri., April 19 beginning at 10:30 p.m.
  • Visitors are encouraged to take the VIA Park and Ride bus shuttles from Crossroads Park and Ride for $1.60 each way.
  • 32,000 chickens on sticks + more vendors.
  • Get tickets ahead of time on The Bake’s website.

Fiesta medal frenzy

Okay, the origins of this one is a bit more difficult to pin down. Fiesta medals have been a staple of the festival for as long as we can remember, but the tradition is said to actually date back to 1946 when the reigning King Antonio distributed coins to the local children. This figure is one that is elected by the Texas Cavaliers, a once social club evolved into a charitable organization, to represent the organization during the parade.

The tale goes that coin-tossing became a tradition during times like parades. From this, children decided to decorate their coin-purses and tie them around their necks during the march. In 1971, Charles G. Orsinger, then reigning King Antonio, collected coins from the children and punched holes in the middle. Thus, the first Fiesta medals were born.

Since then, the medals have garnered an astonishing amount of attention with events like medal exchanges and the official Fiesta medal weigh-in (featuring a winner bringing in 450 medals weighing over 35 pounds).


How many chicken on a sticks do you think are sold at Fiesta? 1,000,000? | 📸 : SATXtoday team

Chicken on a what?

If you haven’t hopped on the chicken on a stick craze, you’re sure in for a treat. This now cult-classic treat has completely taken over San Antonio and has become synonymous with Fiesta and SA’s foodie scene.

While its lore is often debated, we like to think this uniquely San Antonio dish’s success came about through sheer happenstance.

Credited for originating the concept, J.J. Gonzalez (also known as Mr. Chicken) began to serve the Alamo City delicacy at NIOSA (A Night Out in Old San Antonio) without knowing how much the public was going to react. This premier Fiesta event is infamous for bringing in large crowds to the heart of the city at La Villita every year, so naturally this was a perfect place to try to bring something new to patrons.

Us San Antonians know that you can’t have Chicken on a Stick without the jalapeño on top. What the real question is, ‘do you bite out of the jalapeno or chicken first?’ There is a right answer.

Let us know what other questions you have about Fiesta and tag us in all your #puroSA swag.

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