Many revelers – especially in the U.S. and other parts of the world that have embraced Cinco de Mayo celebrations – mistakenly believe that this Mexican holiday is a type of “Independence Day.” In fact,Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) celebrates Mexico’s victory over France on May 5,1862.
“Mexico had been invaded by Spain,France and Great Britain in late 1861,but within six months Spain and Britain had pulled out,” writes CNN. “With the U.S. Civil War raging north of the Mexican border,the French decided to take advantage of the chaos and invade Mexico.”
Although the French made serious inroads during April of 1862,by May a small Mexican army under the command of a general by the name of Ignacio Zaragoza had soundly defeated a larger French contingent at the town of Puebla,which lies about 85 miles east of Mexico City. As a result,the battle – along with the date itself – have been celebrated ever since for the story’s timeless “David vs. Goliath” or “underdog” appeal.
Today,celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Mexico provides an ideal time to honor the country’s unique culture and rich historical traditions. It is one of Mexico’s national holidays,with students getting the day off from school,but it is optional for banks and government offices to close,so be sure to plan ahead if you are going to be in Mexico on or around May 5th. Not surprisingly,Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Mexico are most vibrant in and around Puebla,where the now-legendary battle took place. Here,the event is typically commemorated by a variety of parades,fireworks,street festivals and a full-blown battle re-enactment.
Unlike its northern neighbor,this is not one of Mexico’s major national holidays,with celebrations generally taking on a much more low-key vibe than in many locations throughout the U.S.,where mass-marketing and promotions abound and celebrations often reach a fevered pitch. Often mistaken as Mexican Independence Day throughout the world,Cinco de Mayo is actually a source of inspiration and a symbol of courage and determination in the face of a major colonial European power. It quickly became a national symbol of Mexican pride,unity and patriotism,and today the occasion is still remembered and honored as an important historical achievement each year on the fifth of May.