Traditions of Mexico: Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican national holiday that is also celebrated in the United States. Traditionally, it was a day for Mexican Americans to celebrate their heritage, but these days, it is quite popular in the United States, and people of all ethnicities join in the fun. There are many misconceptions about the holiday, however; many people in the United States think Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Day of Independence. In reality, Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain on September 16 every year, whereas Cinco de Mayo is observed on May 5. In fact, Cinco de Mayo means “fifth of May” in Spanish. So what does Cinco de Mayo celebrate, if not Mexican independence?


The Battle of Puebla

In the mid-1800s, after the Mexican-American War and the Mexican Reform War, the government of Mexico ran out of funds. They owed a lot of money to powerful countries like England, Spain, and France, but they had no way of paying it back. The Mexican president at the time, Benito Juarez, promised his country would eventually pay the other countries, but he decided to stop payments for a period of two years. England, Spain, and France didn’t like this plan, and they all sent troops to Mexico so they could collect their money. After a while, Spain and England changed their minds and left, but France stayed. The French didn’t just want their money back; they wanted to conquer Mexico! On May 5, 1862, French troops led by Gen. Charles Ferdinand Latrille de Lorencez attacked the Mexican city of Puebla. Mexican troops led by General Ignacio Zaragoza were waiting for them. Even though France was considered one of the greatest military powers in the world at the time and Zaragoza’s troops were made up of mainly inexperienced farmers, Mexico defeated France in the Battle of Puebla. From that day forward, Mexico has celebrated their military victory over the French every year on May 5, Cinco de Mayo.


History of the Holiday

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is a day about national pride. Traditionally, it was celebrated with parades to commemorate the Mexican victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla. Over time, however, the government of Mexico went through a lot of major changes, and many people in Mexico no longer felt the same way about the holiday. To them, the importance of the day in Mexico’s history had faded. Of course, some people in Mexico still observe Cinco de Mayo. There are parades in Mexico City and across the country, but the city of Puebla itself is home to the biggest celebrations.

Celebrations of Cinco de Mayo in the United States began in areas where lots of Mexican Americans lived. People in small New Mexico towns, for instance, celebrated their heritage and honored the important holiday by gathering outside to travel down the street in spirited parades. Cinco de Mayo became even more popular during the Chicano movement of the 1960s, when Mexican Americans fought for their civil rights. They saw the holiday as an opportunity to show pride in their culture. Today, large celebrations take place in major cities all over the United States, and people of all ethnicities take part in the festivities.



These days, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in Mexico with parades and rallies. Occasionally, Mexican revelers will dress in extravagant French military costumes and simpler Mexican uniforms as a reminder of what the holiday is all about. The day’s festivities are often accompanied by mariachi music, traditional dances, and lots of food. Children have the day off from school, but many banks and government offices remain open. In America, people celebrate much the same way, but on an even larger scale. There are public parades and private parties, mariachi music, and folk dancing. Mexican food is also part of the festivities, both traditional Mexican meals, like tacos and tamales, and dishes that are more popular in the States, like fajitas and burritos. Some people travel to cities like Los Angeles and Chicago to experience some of the country’s biggest Cinco de Mayo celebrations.


Cinco de Mayo Activities

No matter who you are, there are plenty of ways you can celebrate Cinco de Mayo. You can make colorful decorations and other crafts, learn phrases and songs in Spanish, and eat traditional Mexican foods. Whatever you do, be sure to do it with adult supervision!