What does Cinco de Mayo celebrate? Not what 40% of Americans think:

In the U.S., Cinco de Mayo is widely regarded as Mexico’s Independence Day, which actually occurred decades before Cinco de Mayo’s true origin — the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War in 1862.

While the annual celebration is observed in Mexico, it’s become more popular in the U.S. as a celebration of Mexican-American culture — and as a drinking holiday that rivals the Super Bowl.

When is Cinco de Mayo?

This year, Cinco de Mayo falls on Friday, May 5.

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What does Cinco de Mayo celebrate?

Roughly 40% of Americans believe that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day, according to a 2020 YouGov survey. Where the confusion began is unclear.

Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of a single battle during the Franco-Mexican War — the Battle of Puebla. The battle, which occurred over 50 years after the Mexican Revolution, took place in a small town in east-central Mexico called Puebla de Los Angeles.

French General Charles Latrille de Lorencez attacked the town with 6,000 troops, outnumbering the fortified Mexican forces three-to-one. After a little more than a day of fighting, Latrille de Lorencez retreated, losing nearly 500 soldiers; Mexico lost fewer than 100. The battle represented a symbolic victory for the Mexican government, according to History.com, though the war didn’t end for another five years.

The Franco-Mexican War began after Mexico defaulted on debt payments to European governments. With the country in financial ruin, France seized on the opportunity to carve an empire out of Mexican territory.

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Cinco de Mayo’s U.S. origin

According to a 2007 UCLA news release, the celebration is important to California because that is where it originated. After the historic battle, the celebration developed and evolved in Latino communities throughout California.

Mario García, a Chicanx historian from UC Santa Barbara, told USA TODAY that the modern iteration of the holiday picked up steam during the Chicano Movement in the 1960s and 1970s.

Performers dance during the Cinco de Mayo Festival in Detroit, Michigan, on May 1, 2022.
Performers dance during the Cinco de Mayo Festival in Detroit, Michigan, on May 1, 2022.

"It became a Chicano holiday, in many ways, linked to the Chicano movement, because we discover Mexicans resisting a foreign invader," García said. "They link the struggle of the Chicano movement to Cinco de Mayo."

It was late in the Chicano Movement when companies began to sell the idea of Cinco de Mayo. In the 1980s, García said companies began commercializing the holiday.

What started as marketing from beer companies is now a day to get deals on all Mexican products. Restaurants will host Cinco de Mayo specials and cocktails for the holiday. García jokingly refers to the day as "Coors Day."

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Does Mexico celebrate Cinco de Mayo?

Cinco de Mayo is a relatively minor holiday in Mexico, and it’s mostly observed in the state of Puebla, where the battle occurred.

According to History.com, celebrations traditionally include military parades, recreations of the Battle of Puebla and other festive events. Mexico does not recognize it as a federal holiday.

When is Mexico’s Independence Day?

This year, Mexico will celebrate Independence Day on Sept. 16.

Mexico’s Independence Day is marked by the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence, which occurred from Sept. 16, 1810, to Sept. 27, 1821. The 11-year war resulted in Mexico’s Independence from Spain and the drafting of the Declaration of Independence of the Mexican Empire on Sept. 28, 1821.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: When is Cinco de Mayo 2023, what does it celebrate?