Cinco de Mayo- The history and celebrations of Puebla


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Cinco de Mayo – May 5, federal holiday in Mexico. Fiesta banner template and poster design with flags, flowers, decorations

Cinco de Mayo, otherwise known as the fifth of May, is a holiday widely celebrated in Mexico. It is a day that commemorates the day the Mexican army triumphed over the French on May 5, 1862, at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. While the holiday is loved in Mexico, in the United States the date has exploded in popularity with Cinco de Mayo becoming a commemoration of Mexican culture; the day being especially loved by Mexican-American populations.  


Contrary to widespread belief, Cinco de Mayo is not a Mexican Independence Day, and the famous holiday only celebrates one battle. In 1861, Benito Juárez a lawyer and member of the Indigenous Zapotec tribe (located in the Valley of Oaxaca in Mesoamerica)- was voted to become president of Mexico. During his presidency, the country was in financial ruin leaving Juárez to make default payments to European governments to stop the economy from falling even lower. In response to Mexico’s situation resulting in the payments, France, Britain, and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz demanding a repayment be made. Britain and Spain reached a peaceful conclusion to the negotiation, however the same could not be said with France. 

President Benito Juárez (Liberty of Congress, Washington, D.C)

Seeing an opportunity to strike a piece of land on the Mexican territory, the French fleet stormed Veracruz creating a massive force of troops to descend upon the president leading President Benito Juárez and his government to retreat.  

The success was quick for the French with 6,000 troops led by Charles Latrille de Lorencez. The victory in Veracruz was enough motivation for the army to attack Puebla de Los Angeles (a small town in central Mexico). Now stationed in the north, President Juárez gathered 2,000 troops and led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, the gathering of men traveled to the city of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

 The battle lasted from sunrise to the early evening, although the Mexican troops were outnumbered, they had fewer than 100 casualties with the French losing 500 men in the conflict. The battle has a significant symbolic victory for the Mexican government and gave many the needed boost to continue their resistance movement.  

In 1867, with military and political assistance from the United States, the French withdrew its control from the now free country. 

Charge of the Mexican Cavalry at the Battle of Puebla, (Francisco P. Miranda)

Cinco de Mayo in Mexico: 

In Mexico, the holiday I primarily celebrated within the state of Puebla where the famous battle accorded, however parties do range outside of the city limits branching out to other areas of Mexico. 

The festivity is joined by historical re-enactments of the Battle of Puebla, military parades, mariachi music, adjourned by colorful costumes and brilliant fireworks. Although the holiday is a day to celebrate the beginning to an end, it is not a federal holiday; leaving schools, offices, banks, and other stores to remain open during the festivities.  

Cinco de Mayo celebrated in Mexico, traditional dances by Puebla locals (AFP Getty Images)

Cinco de Mayo in the States:

The holiday in the United States is quite different from how its celebrated in Mexico. Cinco de Mayo is most popular in large cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago; those with roots to Puebla celebrate with traditional dances, literature, and food from the famous city. In New York City some Mexican folkloric groups will use the holiday to divert attention onto important historical events and culture of the Puebla region. Chicano activist first raised awareness of the holiday in the 1960s, having identified with the victory of the Indigenous Mexicans had over European invaders. People honor the holiday with parades, parties, mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing, and traditional foods like how the event is celebrated in Puebla. 


Although Cinco de Mayo is not held everywhere, it is a holiday with increasing popularity in recent years being celebrated in more places. It is a way for the people of Puebla to honor how the Battle of Puebla changed the tides in the Mexican-French war, and for the people of American Cinco de Mayo is a way to spread their culture, bringing increased support. 

No matter how honored the holiday is, it will always be a particularly important landmark in Puebla’s history that will not be forgotten.  

Mexican citizens dancing to mariachi bands while in traditional clothing, (AFP Getty Images)