Why Do People Celebrate Cinco de Mayo? Facts, History About Mexican Holiday

Cinco de Mayo, Spanish for the fifth of May, is celebrated in a very different way in Mexico, where the holiday originated, than it is in the United States. A common misconception among Americans is that Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico's independence. In fact, Mexican Independence Day is September 16.

Here are some facts about the holiday:

Cinco de Mayo marks the date that Mexico's army defeated France at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, during the Franco-Mexican War. Though far outnumbered, Mexicans led by General Ignacio Zaragoza fortified the small town of Puebla de Los Angeles and forced the French to retreat after losing close to 500 soldiers, according to History.com. The victory, though small in the grander scheme of the war, became a symbol of resistance for Mexicans.

In Mexico, people on the date recreate action of the Battle of Puebla and hold military parades. It is a rather minor holiday and observed mostly in the state of Puebla. Since it is not a federal holiday. Banks, workplaces and stores do not close in observance.

Honramos a los héroes que construyeron nuestra historia, por ello regresan a casa los restos de los Hermanos Serdán para celebrar la #HeroicaDefensaDePuebla pic.twitter.com/zKju4b7L6d

— Cinco de Mayo (@CincodeMayoPue) May 4, 2018

Meanwhile in the U.S., Americans have embraced Cinco de Mayo as an opportunity to celebrate the heritage and culture of the neighboring country, but it has also taken on its own life. Cities and towns with large Mexican-American populations have held parades, put on shows with mariachi music and folk dances, and enjoyed traditional food including mole poblano since the 1960s when Chicanos raised awareness around it.

"The reason it became more popular (in the U.S. during that time) was in part because of the Good Neighbor policy," Jose Alamillo, a professor of ethnic studies at Washington State University in Pullman, told National Geographic, referring to the U.S. government's effort to reach out to neighboring countries.

Many Americans also use Cinco de Mayo as an occasion to go out, party and drink alcoholic beverages.