Celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Puebla, Mexico

 Alejandro Linares Garcia / Wikimedia Commons

In the United States, Cinco de Mayo has become a day for consuming tequila and avocados in mass quantities, but in Mexico, the holiday is celebrated a bit differently. May 5 marks the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, during which the Mexican Army defeated the French Empire in 1862. Today, the city of Puebla commemorates the battle with an annual military reenactment and a parade that features mariachi music, colorful costumes, flamenco dancing, and fireworks.

History of Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo—Spanish for "the fifth of May"—is an annual celebration of Mexico's victory over France on the very day that the Battle of Puebla took place more than 150 years ago. In 1861, French forces invaded Veracruz, Mexico, in an attempt to establish an empire there after Mexican president Benito Juárez had defaulted on debts to European governments. Mexico's economy had been through years of turmoil, and although the debts were forgiven by British and Spanish leaders, France's Napoleon III wouldn't let up. 6,000 French troops marched on the small town of Puebla on May 5, 1862, where 2,000 Mexicans—mostly ill-prepared indigenous men—waited to defend their land. And even though they were gravely outnumbered, they won. Over the years, Cinco de Mayo has become a symbol of Mexican pride, but it is not the same as Independence Day.

Cinco de Mayo Parade

Cinco de Mayo in Puebla begins with a reenactment of the battle itself, where people dress up as French and Mexican soldiers and go to war with one another. When the Mexicans win, the celebration begins. A civic parade featuring more than 20,000 performers and community members is one of the city's main events. School children and soldiers march alongside mariachi musicians and elaborate floats. The event showcases flamenco dancers dressed in colorful outfits, street tacos (of course), piñatas filled with sweets, and other cultural displays. It typically starts around 10 a.m. and lasts for several hours.

International Mole Festival

Mole is a marinade or sauce that is made from a complex mixture of ingredients, including chiles, tomatillos, dried fruits, and spices. There are various types of mole sauces (black, red, yellow, green—hence the word "guacamole"), but many regions have their own special version of the traditional recipe. Puebla's is called mole poblano and features chocolate as an ingredient. The city held its first International Mole Festival as part of its 2012 Cinco de Mayo festivities (the 150th anniversary of the battle). Since then, it has become a staple of the annual celebrations, usually including culinary discussions, exhibitions, and tastings for an entire week leading up to the holiday.

Other Things to See in Puebla

Located only a few hours' drive from Mexico City, near the Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl volcanoes, Puebla is the fourth largest city in Mexico. Its cathedral, palaces, and churches of Santo Domingo, San Francisco, and the Jesuit Church have earned Puebla's heritage-packed historical center the coveted title of UNESCO World Heritage site. There's so much to do even outside of the Cinco de Mayo season, such as peruse the Museo Internacional del Barroco (a museum of Baroque art), marvel at the archeological exhibits at the Amparo museum, or shop for hand-painted talavera pottery, which originated here. Puebla is a culinary destination in itself, with its mole poblano and chiles en nogada (chiles in cream sauce) being the local specialties. The city is also about a 30-minute drive from the town of Cholula, where tourists go to visit Zona Arqueológica de Cholula, the world's largest pyramid.

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