Cinco de Mayo in Mexico

Mexican Folklore Dancers
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Celebrate Mexican Culture

Cinco de Mayo is a perfect time to celebrate Mexican culture and history. A common misconception is that this is Mexican Independence Day, but that major holiday takes place in the month of September. This is just one of the surprising facts about Cinco de Mayo. The May 5th holiday in fact commemorates a battle between Mexican and French forces that took place just outside the city of Puebla in 1862.

On that occasion, the Mexicans triumphed over the much larger and better trained French army. This unlikely victory is a source of pride for Mexicans and is remembered every year on the anniversary of the battle.

Origins and History of Cinco de Mayo

So what exactly happened to spur the conflict between Mexico and France? In 1861 Mexico was facing a severe economic crisis and President Benito Juarez decided to temporarily stop payment on external debt in order to deal with the internal financial situation. The countries Mexico was in debt to, Spain, England and France, were concerned about their payments and sent a delegation to Mexico to assess the situation. Juarez was able to resolve the issue with Spain and Britain diplomatically, and they withdrew. The French, however, had other plans.

Napoleon III, realizing the strategic importance of Mexico as a neighbor to the growing power of the United States, decided it would be useful to make Mexico into an empire that he could control.

He decided to send his distant cousin, Maximilian of Hapsburg, to become emperor and rule Mexico backed up by the French army.

The French military were confident they would be able to overcome the Mexicans without undue difficulty, but were surprised in Puebla, when a much smaller battalion of Mexican soldiers, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza were able to defeat them on May 5th, 1862.

The war was far from over, however. More troops of French military arrived and eventually took over Mexico City, sending Benito Juarez' government into exile. Maximilian and his wife Carlota, daughter of the king of Belgium Leopold I, arrived in Mexico to rule as emperor and empress in 1864. Benito Juarez never stopped his political activities during this period, but he moved his government north, to what is now known as Ciudad Juarez. Juarez received support from the United States who didn't like the idea of a European-style monarchy as their southern neighbor. Maximilian's government held until Napoleon III withdrew French troops from Mexico in 1866, and Juarez returned triumphant to resume his presidency in Mexico City.

Cinco de Mayo became a source of inspiration for Mexicans during the French occupation. As a moment in which Mexicans had shown courage and determination in the face of a major colonial European power, it came to be a symbol of Mexican pride, unity and patriotism and the occasion is remembered every year.

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Mexico

Cinco de Mayo is an optional national holiday in Mexico: students have the day off from school, but whether banks and government offices close will vary from state to state.

Celebrations in Puebla, where the legendary battle took place, outshine those held elsewhere in Mexico. In Puebla the event is commemorated with parades and a battle reenactment. Learn more about Cinco de Mayo in Puebla.

Cinco de Mayo in the United States

It comes as a surprise to many Mexicans when they find out that Cinco de Mayo is celebrated with such fanfare in the United States. North of the border, this has become the main day for celebrating Mexican culture, particularly in communities that have large Hispanic populations. Learn about some of the facts behind why Cinco de Mayo is celebrated more in the U.S. than it is in Mexico.

Throw a Fiesta

Sometimes the best way to celebrate is by throwing your own party - that way you can arrange everything to your personal tastes. A Mexican-themed fiesta can be great fun for people of all ages.

Whether you're planning a small get-together or a major party, there are many resources to help you get your party planning just right. From invitations to food, music and decorations, here are some resources for throwing a Cinco de Mayo party.