Today is Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday that takes place annually on the fifth of May. Here in the United States Cinco de Mayo is widely celebrated, even by those not of Mexican or Mexican-American origin – this evening great numbers of people will be eating Mexican food, listening to festive Mexican music, drinking tequila, and wearing fancy dress. There may even be a few Coronas involved with sliced limes stuffed into the necks of their bottles, the way such Mexican beers are commonly consumed in North America. But how did the Cinco de Mayo celebration come about?
The history of Cinco de Mayo
Contrary to the beliefs of many American people, Cinco de Mayo does not celebrate Mexican Independence (that event took place on September 16th, 1810, and is known as El Grito de Dolores, the Cry of Dolores, or El Grito de la Independencia – the Cry of Independence). Rather, Cinco de Mayo celebrates the defeat of the French army by the Mexican army on May 5th, 1862, at the Battle of Puebla. This battle was a result of Mexican defiance against the regime of the French Emperor Napoleon III, that was attempting to collect debts owed to France by a previous Mexican government. The new Mexican President, Benito Juárez, had annulled those debts and refused to pay the French. In response, the French government landed at the Mexican city of Veracruz in 1861, and proceeded to begin occupation of Mexico.
On May 5th, 1862, mistaken in their assumption that the people of Puebla were friendly to the French, the French army attacked the garrison at Puebla, believing that the garrison would be overrun by the population of Puebla once a show of force was made. This was not the case, and strong defense by the smaller Mexican army (4,500 soldiers compared to the French army’s 6,040 troops) managed to hold off multiple attacks by the French army, resulting in a French army retreat. This was a tremendous victory by the Mexican army, which lost only 83 men, compared with the French army’s 462 casualties.
Interestingly, while the battle celebrated on Cinco de Mayo resulted in a victory for the Mexican army, the French did eventually succeed in their occupation of Mexico, taking Mexico City on June 17th, 1863… but not before September 16, 1862, when President Juárez would declare that the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla should be a national holiday known as the “Battle of Puebla Day” or the “Battle of Cinco de Mayo”.
Cinco de Mayo in the United States
As it is with St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated to a much greater extent here in the United States than it is in Mexico (though it is also celebrated in the Mexican city and state of Puebla where the French army was defeated by the Mexican army, and recognized, if not celebrated, in other parts of Mexico). In fact, the holiday was first celebrated (rather than simply recognized) in California in the 1860s in response to resistance to French rule in Mexico. Celebrations eventually spread from California to the rest of the United States.
Some Cinco de Mayo toasts
If you’re celebrating Cinco de Mayo, here are a few toasts that, along with some festive music and a few Margaritas, can help you enjoy the evening!
- ¡Salud! – Cheers!
- ¡Salud, pesetas y amor y tiempo para gozarlos! – Health, love, money and the time to enjoy them!
- ¡Arriba! (raise glass), ¡Abajo! (lower glass), ¡Al centro! (hold the glass in front of you), ¡Pa’ dentro! (or ¡Adentro!) (drink from glass) – up, down, in the middle, inside!