Cinco de Mayo, which translates as “fifth of May” is a holiday that originates in Mexico, but is celebrated worldwide. It is perhaps most popular with Mexican-Americans – arguably even more so than Mexican natives.
It is frequently mistaken for Mexico’s independence day, which actually falls on September 16th and is known as the “Cry of Dolores”. Also, it has no connection to the Day of the Dead, another famous Mexican holiday.
What is the significance of Cinco de Mayo?
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the military victory of Mexico’s forces over the French empire in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. As such, an alternative name for Cinco de Mayo is “Battle of Puebla Day”.
In 1861, Mexico was mired in debt. The countries it owed money to, Britain, France and Spain, each sent their forces over to claim their aforementioned dues. While Britain and Spain were both peacefully negotiated with and placated, France pressed forward and launched an assault on Veracruz, capturing the city.
Anticipating further comfortable victories, French king Napoleon III next ordered his troops to attack Puebla de Los Angeles. However, Benito Juarez, the president of Mexico, saw this move coming and made preparations.
The French outnumbered the Mexicans on the day. Although exact figures are not clear, it’s estimated that the Mexicans had 4,500 soldiers, while the French arrived with a battalion of around 6,500 men – and they were far better equipped. However, the Mexican forces defied the odds – they lost fewer than 100 men in the turmoil, while French casualties reached over 500.
Although the battle meant little in the grand scheme, as the French would eventually take the city during the second battle of Puebla, it was a morale-boosting and moral victory for the people of Mexico. They stood defiant in the face of overwhelming odds and emerged victorious, even if it was short lived. Ultimately, the Mexicans would retake the city during the third battle of Puebla in 1867.
How is it celebrated?
One of Cinco de Mayo’s most popular traditions is alcohol consumption – beer, tequila and wine are the three most popular choices of drink to celebrate the occasion. This aspect of the festivities has come under criticism, due to how it has become commercialised. Tequila, in particular, sees a large upturn in sales on Cinco de Mayo every year.
In Mexico, it is not actually recognised as a national holiday – however, schools across the nation are shut on this day regardless. In Puebla itself, reenactments of the battle take place, alongside celebratory meals and parades. Generally, the day is more popular in Puebla than anywhere else in Mexico.
It has played host to several significant sporting events, including Oscar De La Hoya vs Floyd Mayweather in 2007, which broke the record for most Pay-Per-View buys at the time.
As previously mentioned, several other countries observe and celebrate Cinco de Mayo on a small scale, including (but not limited to) Canada, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.