Grab your tortilla chips, salsa, tacos, and of course those margaritas — it’s time for Cinco de Mayo. OK, if that sounds like a mess of stereotypes, that’s because it is. While Americans use the 5th of May as an excuse to take shots of tequila and sing along with mariachi bands, Cinco de Mayo actually commemorates a major military victory for the Mexican people. But we bet you didn’t know that.
There’s actually a lot you may not know about Cinco de Mayo. Many Americans may assume that it’s the Mexican equivalent of the Fourth of July. They both have the same name structure, don’t they? But, in fact, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day. That actually takes place every September. Instead, this holiday honors the Mexican victory against the French in the Battle of Puebla on, you guessed it, May 5.
Today, this holiday has taken on a life of its own in the United States. More avocados and margaritas are consumed on this day than any other day of the year. If nothing else, it’s an excuse to celebrate Mexican culture (even if Mexicans don’t see this holiday as that big of a deal). But, if you didn’t know these things, we bet you didn’t know these 10 other facts about Cinco de Mayo either.
Cinco de Mayo celebrates everything Mexican, but it shouldn’t be confused with Mexican Independence Day, which is on September 16. The origin of Cinco de Mayo was a tide-turning 1862 battle in the city of Puebla during the French occupation of Mexico. This unexpected victory against Napoleon III’s forces, called the Batalla de Puebla, grew to symbolize Mexican unity and patriotism. It showed that Mexico and Latin America were willing to defend themselves against foreign intervention.
At the time, the United States was enmeshed in the Civil War and France was eyeing a weakened America. Had the French won easily in Mexico, they might have offered aid to the Confederacy, thus potentially extending the Civil War.
While Cinco de Mayo is a major blowout in the United States, Mexicans don’t particularly care about this holiday. In fact in Mexico, only Mexico City and Puebla have sizeable observances. Mexicans will celebrate this day with low-key gatherings, and students do have off school. Think of it like Memorial Day here in America.
Although Mexican immigrants have observed Cinco de Mayo in the United States since the 1860s, the first recognized festival may have occurred 100 years later, when a group of college students in California used it as a way to celebrate their Mexican heritage. Since then, the holiday has become a new beast thanks to commercialism and Americans wanting reasons to drink tequila.
Typical Cinco de Mayo colors are those of the Mexican flag: red, white, and green. Red represents religion and the blood of national heroes. White symbolizes unity and purity. Finally green stands for hope and independence. The Mexican coat of arms, found at the center of the country’s flag, depicts a golden eagle devouring a snake from ancient Aztec mythology. In honor of Cinco de Mayo’s iconic colors, be sure to eat chiles en nogada, a dish consisting of green chiles, white sauce, and red pomegranate seeds that perfectly represent the Mexican flag!
While Puebla has military reenactments and a major celebration, the largest Cinco de Mayo party is actually held in Los Angeles. It’s celebrated with street festivals such as Fiesta Broadway, with major streets in the city blocked off for a celebration of Latin American culture.
Guacamole has become essential to any Cinco de Mayo party. The California Avocado Commission estimates that 87.3 million pounds of avocado were consumed in the United States on the holiday in 2013. You could use that to make 50 different kinds of guacamole easily.
Americans spend around $2.9 billion annually on margaritas, but they buy the most margs on May 5.
We love salsa and burritos as much as the next person, but if you want to do Cinco de Mayo right, eat mole poblano. This traditional dish, which contains a deep, flavorful sauce made of chocolate, chiles, and spices, is served in Puebla on Cinco de Mayo. Here’s how to make it yourself. And if you want to celebrate with even more Mexican food, consider these uniquely delicious taco recipes.
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