The Real Story Behind Cinco de Mayo (and a Few Ways You Can Celebrate)

May 5, 2017 / by Britta Wilhelmsen

Dancers in a Cinco de Mayo parade in Puebla, Mexico.Feliz Cinco de Mayo! Many of us associate this lively Mexican holiday with a whole lot of delicious food — and rightly so — but trust us, there’s more to the story than all those tempting restaurant specials floating around social media. So, grab your margarita, and join us for the real scoop on all things Cinco de Mayo.


No, it’s not Mexico’s Independence Day

First things first: Mexico gained their independence from Spain on September 16, 1810 — more than 50 years before Cinco de Mayo even became a holiday! It’s a common misconception, but the true significance of today’s festivities lies in the Battle of Puebla, fought on May 5, 1862 between Mexico and France. Despite strong regional differences, Mexico was able to unify as a country and a cultural identity in order to fight against foreign imperialism. Cinco de Mayo therefore celebrates not only the unification of Mexico, but their victory as a relatively new nation against the nearly undefeated, and much larger, French army. This sense of patriotism continues today — and can be seen through colorful Cinco de Mayo parades and fiestas in select Mexican cities.


For many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, it’s just another day

Unless you’re in a city like Puebla, where the historic battle was fought all those years ago, you might not find the boisterous fiestas you were expecting. In fact, a majority of the country continues on like normal — banks, stores, and government buildings stay open while only students get the day off. If you’re looking for a rowdy parade, Puebla, Mexico is the place to be. Each year, locals reenact the Battle of Puebla by dressing up as French and Mexican soldiers, complete with fake artillery and plastic weapons. Following their reenacted victory, the crowd breaks out in song and dance to commemorate the historic moment — you might even catch a celebrity or two in attendance.


The U.S. takes it to another level

Nearly 81 million pounds of avocados are consumed on Cinco de Mayo each year, according to the California Avocado Commission. If that sounds ridiculous, we won’t even tell you how much tequila the U.S. downs on this day (hint: it’s nearly twice the consumption of Mexico, and that’s where tequila comes from).

Because of marketing efforts and the 35 million people who identify as Mexican Americans in the U.S., Cinco de Mayo is somewhat of a novelty here today. What started as a small party between Mexicans living in California during the 1860s has now become a commercialized, nationwide U.S. celebration of Mexican culture. Corporations initially saw the holiday as a way to reach Hispanic populations by promoting Mexican products like tequila and Corona, an effort which eventually led to their widespread popularity among all demographics.

Still making last minute Cinco de Mayo plans? Go beyond the guacamole, and check out this list of amazing crowd-approved avocado recipes. After you’ve eaten your fill, head to one of the many parades happening around the country today — Midwesterners will enjoy Chicago’s parade, while folks on the West Coast will find a variety of fun activities in the Bay Area. What will we be doing, you ask? Practicing new vocabulary words from our Latin American Spanish course — in between bites of homemade tacos.

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, take one of our Latin American Spanish specialty courses for a spin — create a free profile or log in below to choose a course to start learning!


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How are you planning on celebrating this Cinco de Mayo? Share your plans in the comments section below!

Topics: Language Learning and Culture

Britta Wilhelmsen

Written by Britta Wilhelmsen

Britta is a University of Michigan graduate, currently living and working in the vibrant city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. When she's not busy teaching English to business professionals or writing for Mango, you can find her enjoying the sun in one of Buenos Aires' beautiful parks and/or studying Spanish in her free time. Like many mangos, she believes that language consistently makes life more colorful.

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