Cinco de Mayo – What Does it Celebrate?

Did you know?

Even though celebrations of Cinco de Mayo originated in Mexico, the day is more popular in the United States.

Cinco de Mayo is NOT Mexican independence day. Mexican Independence Day or Fiestas Patrias is celebrated on September 16. 

With May 5th fast approaching, many Americans are stocking up on guacamole, tequila, and tortilla chips to throw the ultimate fiesta. For most, it is a time to gather with family and friends and with a loose understanding of celebrating the Mexican people and culture. But what does Cinco de Mayo truly celebrate and where did it originate from? To answer these questions, we’ll have to rewind back to the year 1862. 


A Fierce Battle – Battle of Puebla, Mexico 1862


Mexico was originally a Spanish colony called New Spain from as early as 1521. After a ten year war commencing in 1810, Mexico won its independence from Spain and celebrates Mexican Independence Day or Fiestas Patrias on September 16 every year. However, the peace was short-lived.


In 1861, France invaded Mexico in response to Mexican President Benito Juarez suspending payment of all foreign debts. Over the next year of fighting, Mexican soldiers were outnumbered two to one by the French army and lost many battles. However, in the town of Puebla, the Mexican forces stood strong and defeated the French army on May 5, 1862. The victory boosted Mexican morale and national pride. It was this victory and celebration of self-autonomy in the face of larger powers that Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) is celebrated each year. 


A Monster Banquet – Indiana, USA 1910


Fast forward to 1910. Mexican nationals who were attending Notre Dame University in Indiana decided to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a “monster banquet.” The Indianapolis Star magazine posted an article on the celebration, mistaking it as the Mexican “Fourth of July” and the misunderstanding has continued to today. 


How to Celebrate Cinco de Mayo


To properly celebrate Cinco de Mayo this year:


1. Understand and Share the Real Story

Inform friends, family, and coworkers of the courage of the soldiers in the Battle of Prueba and gently correct misunderstandings that Cinco de Mayo does not celebrate Mexican independence. 


2. Support Mexican Businesses and Artists

From local Mexican grocery stores to pottery houses to musicians, support the local Mexican businesses and artists in your area whose culture you are learning about and celebrating for Cinco de Mayo. 


3. Order Authentic Mexican Food

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a good taco or burrito from Taco Bell, but food is a big part of Mexican culture and goes far beyond our idea of Tex-Mex or American Mexican food. Dine in a local Mexican restaurant and order tamales, Chiles en Nogada, Enchiladas, and wash it down with some delicious agua fresca. 


4. Eat Mole Poblano

Mole Poblano is a gravy-like sauce that originated in the town of Puebla. Before the modern age of food manufacturing, it would take days to prepare, so it was saved for special occasions.  Each recipe is different, most are made from several types of chiles, spices, roasted nuts, pepitas, raisins, tomatoes, garlic, onion, Mexican chocolate, bits of corn tortilla or ground toast. Treat your tastebuds to a new and delicious flavor. 



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