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Cinco De Mayo

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Overview and Origin of Cinco De Mayo

The Mexican holiday of Cinco De Mayo is celebrated to commemorate the victory of the Mexican army by a much greater force. On May 5th of 1862, the Mexican army with only 4,000 soldiers defeated the better equipped French army of 8,000 at the Battle of Puebla. To commemorate this holiday, Mexico celebrates the victory with food, dance and fun. Although a national holiday in Mexico, the good cheer has spread around the globe, and in many places, especially the United States, this has become a day to get together with friends for good food and drinks.


History of Cinco De Mayo and the Battle of Puebla

In 1862, Mexico, like it’s northern neighbor, was a fledgling new country.  It had declared its independence from Spain only 52 years earlier, in 1810 [Note: Mexico did not gain full independence,  until 1822, after much bloodshed].  It’s own armies were not as built up as some of the other world powers such as England, Spain and France.  Some of these other countries took advantage of their weakness.  In late 1861, the French government (under orders of Emperor Napoleon III) sent along diplomats and armed soldiers under the pretext of collecting debts from Mexico.  [Note: Mexico was only beginning to recover from the Mexican Civil War of 1858.] However, under the leadership of Archduke Maximillan of Austria, the force landed in Vera Cruz and made its way towards the Mexican capital – Mexico City.


Although taken by surprise, Benito Juarez, the President of Mexico, quickly assembled his troops under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin.  Upon the approach of the French army towards Puebla (approx. 100 miles east of Mexico City), Zaragosa dispatched Colonel Porfirio Diaz to lead the cavalry to flank the approaching men.  This turned out to be the first blunder of the day for the French.  They sent their own cavalry to meet the Mexicans, who knew the land and were much better fighters on horseback.  They slaughtered the French cavalry with little losses to their own men.  The French still forged ahead and decided to attack the city.  This was their second mistake. The Mexican army sent large numbers of cattle stampeding around the city to make the grounds around the city (already wet by heavy rainfall) hard to walk on – especially when walking towards enemy defenders.  The Mexican army was defeated and suffered heavy casualties.


Cinco De Mayo Myths

The Battle of Puebla won the war for Mexico.  No, the celebration is for the victory over the French on May 5th for this particular battle only.  More French soldiers (approx. 30,000) were sent to Mexico and the Mexicans eventually lost the war and Maximilian became the ruler of Mexico.  His reign was short lived. In 1867, the U.S. Civil War was over, and President Lincoln, who was sympathetic to the Mexican’s cause, sent troops and supplies to help the Mexican “rebels” to repel the French. [Note: U.S. soldiers discharged after Civil War were able to keep their arms and uniform if they were to go south and fight in Mexico.]

Cinco De Mayo is Mexican Independence Day. No, this is another myth.  Mexican Independence Day is September 16th, the date Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1810.

Cinco De Mayo is a holiday in the United States.  Yes, and no.  It is only an official holiday in the Puebla region of Mexico.  However, other parts of Mexico, and many people in the United States celebrate the holiday every year.



Cinco De Mayo Facts and History

Mexican Holidays: Cinco De Mayo ( History & information on the holiday plus links to related sources.

Cinco de Mayo 1862 ( History of Cinco De May in English and Spanish.

History of Cinco De Mayo (VivaCincoDeMayo): Information, celebration & history of the holiday.


Mexico History Directory (MexOnline): Information on historical events, people and documents in Mexico.

The People and History of Mexico (Mexico Connect): A timeline of Mexican history with links to information on each date.

MexOnline (official): The complete online guide to Mexico.


This is one holiday where you can never forget the date.  Although a Mexican holiday, people throughout all of North America celebrate this holiday.  Bars and nightclubs are usually full and everyone is happy.  This is not a traditional gift giving holiday, however, because of its festive mood, gifts of food and drink are welcome.

Throwing a Cinco De Mayo Party: There is no greater gift than food.  So, why not give a lot of people the enjoyment of a holiday gift and throw a party.  It does not need to be elaborate. The theme is fun with a Mexican charm.  All you need to get are a drinks, Mexican food and some Spanish/Mexican CDs.  You could "snaz it up" by purchasing some sombreros or other Mexican type memorabilia to display around the room.  Remember, the object is to have fun, but to drink responsibly.

Going to a Cinco De Mayo Party: Food and drink are the two things that would be most welcome for this occasion.  For drinks pick up some Corona Beer, Tequila or Mexican/Spanish wine.  For Food, send a gift basket of fruits or vegetable - or send a gift basket specifically for Cinco De Mayo.

Travel: Where else would be a better place to visit during the beginning of May besides Mexico.  The country is beautiful and it is before the summer, so it is not too hot down there yet.  Just be ready to put your party hat on if you come this time of year.






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Last modified: March 20, 2012

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