Cinco De Mayo is Spanish for the 5th of May. On the May 5, 1862, the Mexican army succeeded in defeating the much stronger French army and delaying the eventual occupation of their sovereign nation. The date became known simply as Cinco de Mayo. Today, Cinco de Mayo is a symbol of the spirit of the Mexican people and a time for honoring Mexican heritage and traditions. This holiday is celebrated in various ways throughout the world.
During the 1800's, Mexico was engaged in almost non stop conflict. They fought for independence from Spain, battled the United States over land and experienced a series of bloody civil wars. The war ravaged and broke nation was forced to borrow large sums of money from the European nations of Britain, Spain and France in order to make ends meet. Mexico, now under the control of President Benito Juarez, ceased payments on the loans in early 1861. The president of the still struggling nation, acknowledged that Mexico had a debt to pay, but in an effort to let the economy recover, stated that he would suspend payments for a period of two years. He assured his lenders that after two years had passed, payments on the loan would resume. After some negotiations, Britain and Spain agreed to give Mexico the grace period requested. France, however, found this arrangement unacceptable. In an effort to recover their monies and possibly gain some control over the United States, French forces led by Napolean III, invaded Mexico in late 1861. The French were successful in their efforts to gain control over the Mexican government . After a brief setback with battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, the French took the capital, Mexico City. They continued to occupy the country until they withdrew in 1867 after considerable pressure from the United States. The battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 is remembered as the bright spot of the war.
Although Mexico was not successful in its efforts to keep the French out, the 5th of May is celebrated in honor of the day when the Mexican people stood strong and prevailed. Forces led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, despite being outnumbered and unprepared, succeeded in staving off French forces on this date. Mexico's history is fraught with war, oppression, occupation and economic depression. Despite the struggles the Mexican people have faced, they remain a proud, determined and positive group. Cinco de Mayo is a date to celebrate the indomitable qualities of the Mexican people and express pride in the rich cultural traditions of the country. While Mexico battled and won a brief period of independence on this date, Cinco de Mayo is not a celebration of freedom but a holiday of heritage and pride.
Cinco de Mayo is not observed in every part of Mexico and is not deemed to be a federal holiday. Most celebrations in Mexico occur in the region of Puebla, the site of the 1862 battle. It is somewhat observed throughout other regions of Mexico, but the celebrations there mostly pale in comparison to those found in Puebla and in other nations. Despite garnering little attention in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated throughout the world, most notably in the United States. It may be that Cinco de Mayo was never a Mexican holiday at all. Some claim that the celebration of Cinco de Mayo originated in California with Mexican supporters during the Franco-Mexican war. Regardless of its origins, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated with a fervor in many parts of the United States, especially those areas with significant Spanish speaking populations.
For those of Mexican descent, Cinco de Mayo can be a day to express pride in their traditions and history. Schools may use the date as an opportunity to teach children about Mexican history and culture. Various festivals may be planned that include parades, Mexican music, dancing, costumes and food. However, for many people, in many parts of the world, Cinco de Mayo is less about celebrating Mexican pride than it is a time to party. Many businesses have made excellent use of the money making opportunities surrounding the holiday. In the United States, advertisements for Mexican themed products and party supplies are ubiquitous beginning in April. For many people, the consumption of nachos, Mexican beer and margaritas is the extent of their Cinco de Mayo celebrations, as well as the extent of their knowledge on the subjects of Mexican history and culture. The lack of the holiday's emphasis on Mexican pride is also evidenced by the several world famous Cinco de Mayo celebrations that revolve around activities such as sky diving, air guitar playing and other events completely unrelated to Mexican culture.
The most popular misconception about Cinco De Mayo is that it is Mexico's independence day. As mentioned previously, Cinco de Mayo is of limited importance to the Mexican people, especially when compared with their actual independence day which falls on September 16th. This national holiday commemorates the date in 1810 when Miguel Hidalgo declared Mexico's intent to free itself from Spanish rule. Independence day is met with much fanfare including fireworks and rodeos and is celebrated throughout every part of Mexico. This day, not Cinco de Mayo, is considered to be the most important national holiday of patriotic pride. Another widespread belief is that Cinco de Mayo is somehow religious in nature and affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. While it is true that many Mexicans are of the Catholic faith, the holiday has no connection with the church or its teachings. This idea may also have spread due to historical struggles between Mexico and the oft oppressive control the church exerted over its government.