What Does Cinco de Mayo Really Celebrate? The Truth Behind Three Major Misconceptions

What Does Cinco de Mayo Really Celebrate? The Truth Behind Three Major Misconceptions

In the US, Cinco de Mayo is an annual celebration of Mexican heritage and culture, but did you know that Cinco de Mayo is more popular in the US than it is in Mexico? Here are a few other misconceptions about the origins of this colorful holiday.
cinco de mayo mariachi
Mariachi band in traditional costume entertaining in a public square.

1. Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day

Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. In fact, the holiday was created over 50 years after Mexico gained its independence. Rather, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Battle of Puebla, which was fought on May 5, 1862.

When invading French troops arrived at the small town of Puebla, a ragtag army of Mexican soldiers went out to meet them. Despite being outnumbered 2 to 1, the Mexicans soldiers defeated the French with very little loss on their side. While not not a major or decisive win, the Battle of Puebla became a symbolic victory for Mexico.

The real Mexican Independence Day is celebrated on September 16; the day when, in 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang the bells of his church and gave a call to arms that sparked the Mexican War of Independence.

2. Cinco de Mayo is not widely celebrated in Mexico

While the US celebrates with barbecues, mariachi music (and more than a few margaritas), Cinco de Mayo isn’t as widely observed in Mexico. To this day, the holiday is most popular in the town of Puebla and is usually celebrated with parades and reenactments of the battle of Puebla.

3. Cinco de Mayo didn’t gain popularity in the US until the 1960s

Cinqo de Mayo was first popularized in the US by civil rights activists in the 1960s who saw the holiday as an opportunity to celebrate Mexican-American pride. Since then, it has made huge gains in popularity. Some attribute this to the commercialization of Cinco de Mayo by beer importers and beverage companies.

When you’re out celebrating Cinco de Mayo this year, keep the holiday’s origins in mind. You just might be able to share a fun fact or two over margaritas!