The History and Tradition Behind Celebrating Cinco De Mayo

This year, Cinco de Mayo takes place on Sunday, May 5, 2019. To many people’s surprise, this isn’t considered a public holiday in Mexico. While it’s only a relatively minor holiday there, in the United States Cinco de Mayo is bigger, commemorating Mexican culture and heritage, particularly in regions with large Mexican-American populations.

However, May 5 is certainly still a memorable date in Mexico’s history. Back in 1862, the Mexican army defeated the French forces who invaded during the Battle of Puebla. The French were considered the most powerful army at that time.

Let’s back up a bit. In 1861, lawyer and member of the Zapotec tribe Benito Juárez was elected president of Mexico. The country was in financial ruin at the time, having suffered many years of internal problems, forcing its new president to default on debt payments to European governments.

France, Britain and Spain, in response, directed naval forces to Veracruz Mexico to demand repayment. While Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and sent their forces back to their home countries, France stood firm. It was ruled by Napolean III, who wished to make an empire out of Mexican territory. Later that year, the strong French fleet stormed Veracruz, forcing President Juárez and his government to retreat.
Confident they would be victorious, French troops under General Charles Latrille de Lorencez attacked Puebla de Los Angeles, which was a tiny town located in east-central Mexico. Meanwhile, Juárez sent his own meager troops to Puebla. Although outnumbered, the Mexican army pulled out a win, representing a great symbolic victory for the local government and acted as a shot in the arm for the resistance movement. France eventually withdrew.

Today, Cinco de Mayo is a festive cultural holiday celebrated with food, festivals and drinks, although it’s not a federal holiday, and stores, banks and schools are still open. It’s primarily observed in the state of Puebla, but celebrated in many other areas as well. Traditions include military parades and recreations of the Battle of Puebla.

Over here in the United States, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated extensively as we show pride for our Mexican-Americans. However, it’s mostly become a drinking holiday marked by Mexican food and beverages like margaritas.

Many people mistakenly think that that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day, but it is not. That day was declared more than 50 years before the Battle of Puebla occurred. Their Independence Day, rather, is celebrated on September 16, which marks the declaration of war against the Spanish government back in 1810.

To get a true taste of Cinco de Mayo, head to Mexico around this time of year. Learn the language first with us at BRIC Language Systems with a free trial.