12 Cinco de Mayo Facts Behind the Celebration

The 5th of May is Cinco de Mayo, which is an important celebration of the history and heritage of Mexico. Get to know the story behind this vibrant celebration by discovering some interesting Cinco de Mayo facts.

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May 5 Is Not Mexican Independence Day

It's not unusual for people to mistakenly think that Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day, but this is not the case. Mexican Independence Day is observed each year on September 16. On this date in 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a revolutionary Catholic Priest, called for Mexico to seek independence from Spanish rule. His efforts marked the beginning of the 11-year Mexican War of Independence.

Cinco de Mayo Marks the Battle of Puebla

Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexico's May 5, 1862 victory over the French Empire in the Battle of Puebla. In this historical battle, Mexico's army was able to defeat France's army, which had invaded the company in pursuit of having debts repaid. French forces withdrew from the area where the battle took place but didn't withdraw from Mexico entirely. Within a year, the French were able to capture its capital and take over Mexico.

Battle of Puebla Impacted U.S. Civil War

Historians believe that the battle of Puebla may have had a significant impact on the Civil War in the U.S. It is believed that, if Mexico did not defeat Napoleon's troops on May 5, 1862, that the French military would probably have joined forces with the Confederacy in the Civil War. If this had happened, it's highly likely that the Civil War would have had a very different outcome.

Cinco de Mayo Is Not a National Holiday

Just a few days after the Battle of Puebla, President Benito Juarez of Mexico announced that Battle of Puebla Day would become a national holiday. Even though the May 5 Battle of Puebla is an important part of Mexico's history, this never happened. Neither Battle of Puebla Day or Cinco de Mayo is an official holiday in Mexico (or anywhere else).

Cinco de Mayo Celebrated in the U.S.

The first Cinco de Mayo celebration took place in the United States (U.S.) in 1863, just a year after the Battle of Puebla. The first U.S. celebrations of Cinco de Mayo took place in California, due to its close proximity to Mexico. This celebration expressed California's solidarity against France. May 5 celebrations continued in the United States, spreading countrywide by the 1930s. Cinco de Mayo celebrations are much more common in the U.S. than in Mexico. It is also celebrated in Canada and some other countries.

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FDR Impacted Cinco de Mayo in the U.S.

In 1933, then-president Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) implemented the good neighbor policy, which focused on improving U.S. relations with Latin America. It is believed that this policy's focus on positive relationships with America's neighbors south of the border spurred widespread interest in Cinco de Mayo celebrations throughout the U.S.

Very Limited May 5 Celebration in Mexico

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is not considered to be a big day of celebration. The only place it tends to be observed is in the city of Puebla, which is where the Battle of Puebla actually took place. The day is historically significant in Puebla, but otherwise is just the fifth day of May throughout the rest of the country. Mexico's big national celebration is September 16 (Mexican Independence Day).

Largest U.S. Celebration Is in Denver

Cinco de Mayo festival in Civic Center Park Denver Colorado

The annual Denver Cinco de Mayo Festival in Colorado is believed to be the largest Cinco de Mayo celebration in the world. In 2019, over 400,000 people attended the two-day (May 5 and 6) outdoor festival that paid homage to the culture and traditions of Mexico. The event includes music and dance performances, a parade and a contest to see who can eat the most tacos. There are similar events in other locations throughout the U.S., particularly areas that have a sizeable Mexican-American population.

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Traditional Cinco de Mayo Decorations

Cinco de Mayo is often marked by fiestas (parties) where people gather to socialize and celebrate Mexican culture. Party decor typically features green, red and white, which are the colors of Mexico's flag. Because Cinco de Mayo gatherings are festive, common decorations include brightly colored balloons, streamers and pinatas. There are many great ideas for Cinco de Mayo decorations.

Celebrate With Authentic Cultural Costumes

People who attend Cinco de Mayo celebrations sometimes wear authentic cultural costumes to help celebrate Mexican culture. The history of dress in Mexico is fascinating. Cinco de Mexico is a great occasion to dress in traditional Mexican apparel items. Mexican dance costumes can also be appropriate to wear to such events.

Enjoy Traditional Cinco de Mayo Food

Of course, the menu of any Cinco de Mayo celebration will include traditional Mexican food items. All kinds of Mexican fare is appropriate for a Cinco de Mayo menu; the more authentic the dishes the better. Popular choices include tacos, guacamole, enchiladas, tortas, flautas, tamales, enchiladas, refried beans, sopapillas, flan, and many other delicious dishes.

Revel in Cinco de Mayo Entertainment

Whether at an in-home party or a restaurant, Cinco de Mayo entertainment includes cultural music and dancing specific to Mexico. For example, you may be treated to the upbeat musical stylings of a live mariachi band or discover the sheer joy of many traditional dances of Mexico. You may even get to hear Mexican folk music and watch or participate in Mexican folk dancing.

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Exploring Cinco de Mayo Facts

Now that you've explored these interesting Cinco de Mayo facts, you probably know more about the history behind this springtime celebration as well as some new ideas on how to celebrate the occasion. If there's a Cinco de Mayo celebration in your future, you might want to get even more prepared by mastering some common Spanish words. What better way to celebrate a culture than to learn to speak the language, even if you only have time to pick up a few Spanish slang phrases.