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The Real History Behind Cinco de Mayo

A mountain view of Puebla Mexico
Puebla, Mexico. Photo by Roberto Carlos Roman Don on Unsplash

Even though Cinco de Mayo is commonly known as a day to celebrate Mexican food and culture in the United States, did you know that the unofficial holiday isn't that big of a deal in Mexico?

The celebration of Cinco de Mayo is mostly limited to the US. For the majority of Mexico, outside of the tourists areas and the city of Puebla, May 5th is just another day.

The origin story of the holiday is meant to celebrate the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War on May 5, 1862. It was on this day that General Ignacio Zaragoza and Officer Brigadier General Porfirio Díaz successfully stopped the French military from invading the city of Puebla. However, this wasn't necessarily the main event of the war. As they say, the battle may have been won but the war wasn't over.

Despite causing the French soldiers to retreat, that next March the opposition returned and the city ended up being conquered. It wasn't until April 2, 1867 when Díaz, who went on to become president of Mexico in 1877, overtook the French and ended their occupation of Puebla. Despite this milestone being admirable, but not the most significant event of the battle between Mexico and the French, May 5 is the day that Americans have chosen to celebrate (likely not knowing the reason why).

Rich in culture, beautiful landscapes, and prehistoric architecture, the central town of Puebla is where the longest standing Cinco de Mayo festivities happen. On the day there's not only a parade that showcases their local military, customs, traditional clothing, and include performances by local indigenous communities, for the entire month there's a fair filled with traditional food, treats, crafts, entertainment and more. Outside of Puebla, some other big celebrations take place in Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and other cities with large Mexican American populations.

Even though we're all in for any celebration of Mexican culture, tradition, and history, it's great to keep in mind the story behind why we especially enjoy Mexican food and margaritas on Cinco de Mayo.

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