History of Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo

Chili DrinksCinco de Mayo, which means “fifth of May” in Spanish, is a Mexican holiday that celebrates the Mexican victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. The victory was not what would be considered a strategic success for the Mexicans, but it was very unexpected as the French army had 6,000 soldiers and the Mexicans only had 2,000, many of whom were not trained. The Mexicans fortified the city of Puebla against the impending attack. The battle lasted only from daybreak to sunset and by the end of it the Mexicans had lost under 100 men, and the French had lost 500. Their win carried more symbolic value than anything else. The Mexican government used it as a source of national pride for their country and to strengthen the spirits of the resistance movement, which helped carry Mexico through the war until it ended in 1867 when the French retreated. Cinco de Mayo is not, as many people believe, the Mexican Day of Independence, which is on September 16th. Mexico declared their independence fifty years before the Battle of Puebla was fought.

Today the holiday is most exuberantly celebrated in Puebla, the location of the famous battle, but levels of celebration vary across the country. It is not a federal holiday country-wide, although some cities do recognize it as a full holiday, refraining from school and work. There are a wide variety of events that take place, including reenactments, parades, and festivals. Cinco de Mayo has also become popular in United States in the states located near the U.S./Mexican border and in places that have a high population of people with Mexican heritage. Awareness for the holiday was raised in the 1960s by Chicano activists who felt connected to the native Mexicans who fought in the Battle of Puebla. Festivities include eating traditional Mexican foods, listening to Mexican music (especially mariachi), and fully embracing the Mexican culture.

Like any holiday, Cinco de Mayo has been commercialized quite a bit, both in Mexico and the United States to promote the interests of businesses. There are several cities in the United States that host parades and concerts and the holiday is almost becoming more popular in the U.S. than it is in Mexico.

Cinco de Mayo is celebrated on a smaller scale in a select few other countries as well. In Windsor, Ontario in Canada there is a street festival that is modeled after American Cinco de Mayo celebrations and it’s not uncommon for Canadian pubs to serve Mexican drinks and food on the day. There is a Cinco de Mayo air guitar competition that is held every year in the Cayman Islands and there is also a celebration in Jamaica. Festivities can also be found in Paris, London, New Zealand, and Brisbane, Australia.


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