The meaning of Cinco de Mayo

David Scott

Cinco de Mayo, which celebrates Mexico’s victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, is not considered a popular holiday in Mexico, but has become a very important way in the United States to celebrate Mexican culture and to commemorate heritage – especially among Mexican American populations, including Texas.

Today, many people in the United States associate Cinco de Mayo with margaritas, tacos and parties, without realizing the story behind the celebration. In 1862, Napoleon III’s French forces attempted an invasion of Mexico in hopes of establishing a monarchy in Mexico and gaining influence in North America.

More than 6,000 French troops were sent for the invasion in hopes of outnumbering the small army of Mexicans led by General Ignacio Zaragoza. In a surprising event, Mexican forces defeated French forces who were forced to withdraw. Known as the Battle of Puebla, this victory boosted morale among the people of Mexico and ultimately became a symbol of the country’s cultural pride, courage and resilience.

Some interesting facts about Cinco de Mayo include:

  • In 2017, the beer company Corona lit up New York City’s famous Times Square Ball to resemble a lime wedge and hosted a “Lime Drop” to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.
  • In 2005, Congress declared Cinco de Mayo an official U.S. holiday.
  • Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in a few other places around the world, including Brisbane, Australia, Malta and the Cayman Islands.
  • In the past, Americans have consumed more than 80 million pounds of avocados on Cinco de Mayo.
  • The annual Cinco de Mayo celebration in Los Angeles is bigger than that in Puebla, Mexico, where the holiday originated.
  • Forget the tacos, one of the most popular traditional dishes in Mexico for Cinco de Mayo is mole poblano, a rich sauce made from chocolate and chili.
  • The colors traditionally associated with Cinco de Mayo are red, white and green, reflecting the colors of the Mexican flag.
  • Every year the Battle of Puebla is re-enacted in Mexico City.
  • Many 2020 Cinco de Mayo celebrations were canceled or converted to virtual gatherings due to the pandemic.
  • The city of Longmont, Colorado celebrates Cinco de Mayo with a Chihuahua beauty pageant, crowning a Chihuahua king and queen.
  • In 2013, Americans spent more than $600 million on beer for Cinco de Mayo.