Cinco de Mayo has become a beloved holiday in the United States. Every year come May 5, revelers rush to sip on margaritas, chow down on some tacos and maybe even take a whack at a pinata in honor of the Mexican holiday.
While any excuse to party is usually a good one, many people don't know why they celebrate Cinco de Mayo, which we all know, deep down inside, isn't really how it should be. What's worse, is that some people celebrate the holiday for the completely wrong reason.
So if you're going to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, you should at least know what has given you the right to take that tequila shot, don't you think? Plus, Cinco de Mayo has a rich history filled with battles, patriotism and traditions that are just as exciting to read about as any party you'll be attending this May 5.
OK, maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit here, but the origins of Cinco de Mayo are still really fascinating and well worth a perusal. The only holidays worth celebrating are those that are about more than just food and alcohol, after all. I know. Shocking.
Now don't you want to know what Cinco de Mayo is all about? Of course you do, or else why would you be here? To get you started on your quest for knowledge about Cinco de Mayo, here are six essential facts about the holiday's history and traditions that are sure to give you a lot of talking points during this year's festivities.
1. What does Cinco de Mayo actually celebrate?
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Battle of Puebla, which took place in Mexico on May 5, 1862. The battle was part of the Franco-Mexican War, which began as a result of new Mexican President Benito Juarez defaulting on the country's loans from European governments. Britain, France and Spain sent troops to Veracruz to demand reimbursement. Britain and Spain eventually withdrew, but France continued its advance, hoping to carve out a territory of Mexico for itself. France sent 6,000 troops to attack the small town of Puebla de Los Angeles in east central Mexico. Juarez responded by sending 2,000 men. Though they were outnumbered, the Mexican army was victorious over the French. However, it would be another five years before the French would withdraw from Mexico completely.
2. Doesn't Cinco de Mayo have something to do with Mexican Independence Day?
Cinco de Mayo has long been rumored to also be known as Mexican Independence Day. However, that actually takes place on Sept. 16 annually to celebrate the beginning of Mexico's fight for independence from Spanish rule in 1810. This day marks the occasion when a respected Catholic priest by the name of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla gave a rallying cry known as the "Grito de Dolores," or "Cry of Dolores," which effectively declared war against the colonial government.
3. How is Cinco de Mayo traditionally celebrated?
Though many Americans party hard on Cinco de Mayo, the holiday gets a tamer commemoration in Mexico. Men dress up in fancy French military uniforms and raggedy Mexican uniforms in parades to signify the improbability of the country's victory and participate in re-enactments of the battle. However, Cinco de Mayo is not a federal holiday in Mexico, and celebrations are largely confined to the state of Puebla, according to History.com. In fact, just like St. Patrick's Day, Cinco de Mayo has become a bigger deal in the U.S., which probably has to do with the fact that many people view it as a reason to party hard-y, if you know what I mean.
4. What should you eat on Cinco de Mayo?
Now to the most important question: What are you going to eat on Cinco de Mayo? You may want to put quesadillas, margaritas and tacos on your Cinco de Mayo menu, but they actually shouldn't be. If you really want to celebrate the holiday right, the appropriate Mexican dish to munch on is mole poblano, which is a dark, thick sauce made from a bunch of ground ingredients, including chiles. It's usually served over chicken or turkey and is one of the most popular Puebla dishes eaten on Cinco de Mayo.
5. Wait, Cinco de Mayo may not have originated in Mexico?
Though a Mexican battle inspired Cinco de Mayo, Mexicans in the U.S. may have actually been the first people to celebrate it. Caught between the American Civil War and the turmoil in Mexico, Mexicans living in the U.S. created Cinco de Mayo as a way to support freedom and racial equality and oppose slavery, Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, a professor of medicine at UCLA who is also a scholar of Latino health and author of the book El Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition, told the Huffington Post in 2012. The first record of a Cinco de Mayo celebration appeared in an article in a newspaper in Columbia, Calif. three days after the Battle of Puebla. Big parties like this one commemorating the Mexican military victory would continue over the years, becoming more mainstream after the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, according to History.com.
6. How do we celebrate Cinco de Mayo today?
Today, Cinco de Mayo is deeply ingrained in American society as a way to celebrate Mexican culture and heritage. The White House even holds a Cinco de Mayo celebration every year, which is unsurprisingly sometimes used to push a political agenda too. Some restaurants and stores also have specials and deals in honor of Cinco de Mayo, which gives Americans an extra incentive to indulge in some Mexican food and drink on this holiday. But at least now they know what it's for.