Why Do We Celebrate Cinco de Mayo?

Cinco de Mayo—or the fifth of May—commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. A relatively minor holiday in Mexico, in the United States Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, particularly in areas with large Mexican-American populations. Cinco de Mayo traditions include parades, mariachi music performances and street festivals in cities and towns across Mexico and the United States.

The Battle of Puebla is significant because the Mexican army was drastically outnumbered and lacked much of the supplies and artillery that the well-prepared French possessed. After the two armies clashed for most of the day, the French finally retreated having lost nearly 500 soldiers. Fewer than 100 Mexican soldiers had been killed in the battle. Although it was not a strategic win in the overall war, the Mexican’s success was a symbolic victory that reenergized the resistance movement.

For most Mexicans, May 5th is a day like any other day. Because it is not a federal holiday, offices, banks, schools and stores remain open. Many people outside Mexico mistakenly believe that Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican Independence, which was declared more than 50 years before the Battle of Puebla. Mexican Independence Day is celebrated every year on September 16.

In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is widely interpreted as a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage. The holiday is celebrated with parades, parties and of course, drinking cervezas like Corona, Modelo, Dos Equis and Tecate. As you’re enjoying your favorite Mexican beers, be sure to be safe and responsible as you find your beach wherever you may be on May 5.