Cinco de Mayo celebrations all start with a sombrero and inevitably end with a margarita. But as you sway to mariachi music and olé your way around the guacamole bowl, you should know what it is you’re celebrating. And no, it actually isn’t Mexico’s Independence Day (that occurs in September).
Cinco De Mayo (the 5th of May for those without Google translation abilities) is the holiday that commemorates the day the Mexican army defeated France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War(1861-1867) in 1862.
Benito Juárez (1806-1872) became president of Mexico in 1861 and due to the financial distress the country was in, he defaulted on his debts to European governments. France, Britain, and Spain deployed naval forces to Veracruz, demanding reimbursement. Both Britain and Spain were able to negotiate with Mexico and withdrew, but France saw this as an opportunity to gain dominance over Mexican territory. Late in 1861, a well-armed French fleet stormed Veracruz, and feeling it would be an easy win, began their attack on the small town. Juárez pulled together an army of 2,000 men and pitted them against France’s army of 6,000 strong with great force. On May 5, 1862, a day long battle forced French troops to retreat, causing them to lose 500 soldiers compared to the Mexican army’s loss of less than 100 men.
While this holiday isn’t a huge celebration in Mexico, it is used as a way to honor Mexican culture and traditions. Cinco de Mayo is primarily observed in the state of Puebla, Mexico, and a few other regions around the country participate in the celebrations.
In America today, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated by parades, parties, mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing, and traditional foods. Primarily the largest festivals occur in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston.