May 5th is a special day for Mexico, commemorating their victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War in 1862.

A vibrant celebration, it’s usually marked by carnivals and parades in larger cities.

If you have never heard of this day before or don’t know much about it, why not read on to find out more?

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A brief history of Cinco de Mayo

In 1862, French troops under General Charles Latrille de Lorencez set out to attack a small town named Puebla de Los Angeles. In response, President Juarez, the ruler of Mexico at the time, decided to round up 2,000 loyal men and send them out into battle. This was the beginning of a revolutionary moment in history.

The battle was significant because it proved to be a turning point in favor of Mexico and against French rule, which had invaded Mexico during the French Intervention. It also inspired later generations of revolutionaries like Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, who fought for Mexico’s independence from foreign powers. It has become one of Mexico’s most celebrated historical events and remains one of the greatest military victories in modern history.

The French were the first to retreat, losing 500 soldiers to the fighting. While the Mexican army lost around 100 men, their immense power still greatly outnumbered the other side.

Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in Mexico and other countries like Spain and the United States.

The War of Reform

Before the Battle of Puebla, the country had been recovering from a civil war, with Mexico being strongly divided into liberals and conservatives. Even though the liberals won the 1858 War of Reform, the conflict between both sides remained strong. The string of wars during this time was what this era became largely known for.

With the liberals’ victory meaning independence for Mexico, the country soon ran into financial hardships. They had barely any money in their banks and owed thousands of unpayable dollars to foreign transactors. This prompted a vicious backlash from Spain.

Even countries such as France tried to take advantage of the situation, pushing forward through the borders to gain what they could. However, they were so overconfident in taking down the Mexicans that they came underprepared, so the French were ambushed on their arrival day.

All of this cumulated in the Battle of Puebla.

France’s occupation

It’s a lesser-known fact that France returned to Mexico not long after losing the Battle of Puebla to fight again. In his second stand-off, Napoleon III took charge of 30,000 troops, which was won by a milestone against the small Mexican army.

Ferdinand Maximillian was installed as Mexico’s leader, but in 1866, Napoleon III decided to end the reign after unrest began amongst the nationals. Maximillian stayed and fought on, but a firing squad executed him only a year later alongside his remaining troops. This officially marked the moment when Mexico rid its country of any opposition, and they were free to flaunt its rights as an independent country.

Afterward, Porfirio Diaz, Mexico’s longest-serving president, began to tour the world in battle, including in Oaxaca but then became highly disillusioned. He tried to run for president against Juarez but lost, unsurprisingly. However, he finally seized power in 1876 and was overthrown by his people in 1911.

Cinco de Mayo in the United States

With the largest festivals in Los Angeles, Houston, and Chicago, it’s not just Mexicans who celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Chicano activists in the United States raised awareness of the holiday in the 1960s, emphasizing how the indigenous Mexicans were the reason behind the historical success. Hence, we now celebrate this special day not just in Mexico but across the USA too.

In our country, the celebration focuses more on Mexican culture than war. Americans get to enjoy some of the finest traditions from abroad and immerse themselves in all it offers.

Sadly, this means that some people outside of Mexico think the celebration is for their Independence Day, which is far from the case. Mexicans celebrate their Independence Day on the 16th of September when Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla issued the Cry of Dolores in 1810. This marked the start of a war on the Spanish government, which led to another triumphant win for Mexico. It’s known locally as Dia de la Independencia.

How is Cinco de Mayo celebrated?

Cinco de Mayo takes place on May 5th in the United States, Mexico, and France to celebrate Mexican heritage. During the celebrations, parades, dances, and music are performed by different people from all over the country – and even the world.

Just some of the events that typically take place on Cinco de Mayo include:

  • Military parades
  • Re-enactments of the battle by the community or professional actors
  • Eating traditional food, such as tacos and tamales, or having a Mexican-inspired meal with family and friends.
  • Drinking some tequila or another alcoholic beverage that’s popular in Mexico

For Mexicans, this day is not particularly considered a federal holiday, so stores tend to remain open throughout, but it is seen as a day of fun and celebration. So, even if you work in Cinco de Mayo, there will always be a time in the evening to do something enjoyable for yourself and those around you.

To learn more about historical events worldwide, check out our blog.