Cinco de Mayo, which translates to "the fifth of May", is celebrated every year on May 5. It commemorates the victory of the Mexican over the French in the Battle of Puebla, in 1862, during the Franco-Mexican War.
The day has become more popular in the United States than in Mexico, and it serves as a commemoration of Mexican culture in America.
Cinco de Mayo is not a public holiday, and as such, schools and businesses remain open.
After the Mexican-American War and the Reform War, Mexico found itself in near bankruptcy and unable to pay its debt to some European governments. In 1861, President Benito Juárez declared that he would put the debt payment on hold for two years. This did not please Spain, Britain,, and France who sent convoys to Veracruz demanding to be paid back. While Juárez was able to negotiate with Britain and Spain, Napoleon III saw this as an opportunity to establish a French empire in Mexico, in order to gain influence in American territories.
So, in late 1861, a French fleet made of a large number of troops attacked Veracruz and led President Juárez and his government into retreat. The 8,000 soldiers, however, found strong resistance in the city of Puebla, while making their way to Mexico City. President Juárez, upon hearing about the attack on Puebla, ordered 4,000 men to fortify the town and the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe.
Even though the French were heavily armed, and the Mexicans were underprepared for the assault, by the early evening the French were forced to retreat, having lost around 500 soldiers. The Mexicans, on the other hand, had lost fewer than 100 men.
This victory gave the Mexicans a great morale boost and strengthened their resistance, as well as their sense of community and patriotism.
History of the Holiday
The commemoration of the holiday in the United States has its origins in California, in 1863, at the hand of Mexican miners who lived in the state and were overjoyed about the victory over the French rule in Mexico. Cinco de Mayo has been celebrated in California ever since.
In the rest of the country, Cinco de Mayo gained notoriety in the 1940s, during the Chicano Movement, but it wasn't until the 1980s that it became a popular celebration, due to the promotion of the holiday done by beer companies and marketers, trying to capitalize on the holiday. The day became a symbol of the commemoration of Mexican culture in America, first in places like Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and New York, which had large Mexican-American populations, and eventually extending into 21 different states. The Fiesta Broadway in Los Angeles is the world's biggest Cinco de Mayo celebration.
How it is celebrated
The celebrations emphasize Mexican culture, food, and music, and Cinco de Mayo events feature Baile Folklorico and mariachi demonstrations.
Cinco de Mayo banners are displayed everywhere and schools will host events and activities that aim at educating students about the history and cultural significance of Cinco de Mayo.
In recent years the holiday has become very commercial, and businesses such as restaurants and bars will have Cinco de Mayo special promotions on food and drink. During Cinco de Mayo, Americans purchase almost as much beer as they do during the Super Bowl.