May 5, 2014

A Short History of Cinco de Mayo

On May 5th year after year we celebrate by attending parties filled with sombreros, Mexican cuisine, and salsa music. These yearly celebrations are in honor of Cinco de Mayo which literally translates to the 5th day in May. If you didn't already know, Cinco de Mayo is a bigger deal in the United States than in Mexico. Here, this unofficial holiday is almost as popular as, oh, St. Patrick's Day -- which means it's unfortunately become a drinking holiday. So much so that it's been nicknamed, Cinco de Drinko and even Gringo de Mayo.
So why do we celebrate? On this day in 1862 the battle of Puebla took place. At the time of the battle, Mexico was in debt to the French government so the French decided to send over a large army to collect the debts. The French were better prepared for battle than the Mexicans because they had superior training and they were also twice the size. This didn’t deter the Mexicans from fighting their hearts out, which they did, causing them the win over the French at the Battle of Puebla. The city was renamed Puebla de Zaragoza in honor of General Ignacio Zaragoza SeguĂ­n who led the Mexican troops to victory in the famous battle. A young officer named Porfirio Diaz distinguished himself during the Battle of Puebla. Diaz subsequently rose rapidly through the ranks as an officer and then as a politician. In 1876, he reached the presidency and did not leave until the Mexican Revolution kicked him out in 1911 - a rule of 35 years. Diaz remains one of the most important presidents in the history of Mexico, and he got his start on the original Cinco de Mayo.

Below are few more fun facts about Cinco de Mayo:

• It is NOT Mexico’s Independence Day:
That's a common misconception. Mexico celebrates its independence day on September 16, the date in 1810 Father Miguel Hidalgo issued his "Grito de Dolores," or famous call to arms to overthrow the Spanish.

• It’s not such a big deal in Mexico:
In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is not nearly as important a holiday as Independence Day, September 16. Mexicans observe and celebrate Cinco de Mayo with family gatherings, fireworks, feasts and more: the best place to go for the festivities is the city of Puebla, where the famous battle took place. Cinco de Mayo celebrations are very important for Mexicans living outside of Mexico, particularly in the United States.

• It wasn't the first time France had invaded Mexico
Back in 1838-1839, Mexico and France had fought what was known as "The Pastry War." During this conflict, France invaded and occupied the city of Veracruz. Like the later French invasion, the Pastry War was about France wanting to collect on certain debts.

• The world’s largest Cinco de Mayo party takes place in Los Angeles, CA.

• According to the California Avocado Commission, Americans consume up to 81 million avocados during the holiday.

• In Puebla, revelers typically wear Western costumes to celebrate the holiday.

• Tequila is derived from the agave plant - today the popular liquor is brewed from the blue agave native to the Jalisco region of Mexico.

• Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16th. They had already declared their independence from Spain more than 50 years before they battled the French.

• Cinco de Mayo is just one of the approximately 365 festivals celebrated by people of Mexican descent.

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