All About Cinco de Mayo

It’s fiesta time! With preparations in full swing for a day of fanfare, parades, revelry, and general merry making, Cinco de Mayo is a time of celebration and history. Widely celebrated across many cities in the United States and in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo, meaning ‘fifth of May’ in Spanish, is a celebration of Mexican heritage and culture. But do you know about the history behind this day and the epic battle that it commemorates?

Cinco de Mayo
"Cinco de Mayo" by Paul Stein is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Cinco de Mayo History

This landmark day commemorates the victory of the Mexican militia over French forces in the Battle of Puebla. In 1861, when Mexico was in deep debt to the European governments of France, Britain, and Spain, Mexican president Benito Juarez defaulted on the loan repayments. While Spain and Britain negotiated and withdrew, France, ruled by Napolean III, decided to establish a Latin empire in Mexico.

The French army stormed Veracruz in 1861 and President Juarez and his government had to retreat. The French army continued towards Mexico City, but encountered heavy resistance in the small Mexican town of Puebla. Compared to the massive numbers of the French army – about 6,000 – only about 2000 Mexicans led by General Ignacio Zaragoza came together to form the resistance. In spite of being outnumbered, the small Mexican troop triumphed over the mighty French army on May 5, 1862.

Cinco de Mayo Significance

While the victory at the Battle of Puebla did not drive out the French forces completely, this day is symbolic of the unity between the Mexicans and their retaliation and subsequent victory against an army believed to be larger and much stronger.

Cinco de Mayo Celebrations

Today, Cinco de Mayo is more of a a celebration of Mexican heritage, pride, and culture, and is celebrated differently throughout various parts of the world.

Cinco de Mayo in Mexico

Cinco de Mayo is not a national holiday in Mexico, but is an official holiday in Puebla. While this day is observed in different parts of Mexico, it is celebrated with most elaborately in the State of Puebla. Traditionally, parades and reenactments of the battle are performed on this day.

Cinco de Mayo in the United States

The Mexican-American population celebrates this day with great fanfare! Some of the largest celebrations are held in Chicago and Los Angeles. Ceremonies and activities abound, with Cinco de Mayo banners displayed everywhere, regional dancing, traditional Mexican music, and demonstrations in different parts of the city.

Inspiring unity with a symbolic victory over a force considered far more powerful, , Cinco de Mayo has a truly interesting and rousing history behind it. Teach your kids about the rich history behind this day and get them engaged with JumpStart’s fun Cinco de Mayo crafts, activities, and worksheets.

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