What Is Cinco de Mayo? Here’s What to Know About the History of the Holiday

·2 min read

What Is Cinco de Mayo? Here’s What to Know About the History of the Holiday

It's commonly mistaken for Mexico's Independence Day, but the holiday has a totally different meaning.

Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday that's typically celebrated with traditional food and music, and has actually become more popular in the United States than in Mexico. And because of that, it's often mistaken for a Mexican Independence Day celebration, but the holiday actually has a much different meaning.

Cinco de Mayo (which translates to "the fifth of May"), commemorates the Mexican army's defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. (Because of this, the holiday is also known as Battle of Puebla Day in Mexico.)

So before you make plans to celebrate Cinco de Mayo this year, take a few minutes to learn about the significance of the holiday and educate yourself on the day's history.

Related: 31 Festive Cinco de Mayo Recipes to Try

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When Is Cinco de Mayo?

The holiday is always observed on May 5, the anniversary of the Mexican Army defeating the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. This year Cinco de Mayo is Wednesday, May 5, 2021.

The History of Cinco de Mayo

If you're a little fuzzy on the details from history class, you may not know why the Battle of Puebla is significant—don't worry, we've put together a quick history refresher to help you get caught up.

Rewind to the year 1858: Mexico is involved in the Reform War, and at the end of the war the country owes England, France, and Spain a total of 80 million pesos. When Mexico couldn't pay their debts quickly enough, England and Spain negotiated with Mexico and worked out a deal—but the French military, who had sent naval forces to Mexico in 1861, deployed 6,000 troops to the town of Puebla de Los Angeles.

The Mexican army only had 2,000 troops left after the war, and they were all sent to meet the French soldiers at the Battle of Puebla. But after a day of fighting, the Mexican troops defeated the French, despite having less than half as many men.

This victory eventually led to the Mexican resistance movement and Mexican independence from France, although the holiday is not seen as an Independence Day. Rather, this classic David and Goliath story is seen as a symbolic celebration of Mexican heritage and the perseverance of the people there.

In Mexico, the holiday is mainly celebrated within the city of Puebla, although other places in the country do observe it as well. Typically the holiday is celebrated with military parades, festive meals, and a recreation of the Battle of Puebla.