Cinco de Mayo literally means the 5th of May in Spanish and is a celebration that’s been confused with Mexico’s Independence Day (which is actually on September 16). Let’s find out where this holiday came from!
What really happened on the 5th of May in Mexico?
A hastily assembled group of Mexican soldiers and villagers claimed victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. This was during the Franco-Mexican War. It’s called the Battle of Puebla Day in Mexico.
This was a battle that wasn’t a huge victory, but it was very symbolic for the people of Mexico. French soldiers were headed to the capital, Mexico City. But the small town of Puebla de Los Angeles was right in the way and was set to be attacke on May 5, 1862.
General Charles Latrille de Lorencez set out with 6,000 French troops to invade the town and establish a military post. He was certain he was going to win.
General Ignacio Zaragoza of the Mexican army gathered 2,000 troops and townspeople to defend the town.
The battle lasted all day. In the end, General Lorencez pulled back and conceded to General Zaragoza.
In Mexico, the celebration is held mainly in the state of Puebla, with military marches and reenactments of the battle. A monument was dedicated to General Zaragoza in Puebla in 1896.
The first time Cinco de Mayo was celebrated here in America was in 1863. Mexican immigrants that were living in California got news of the victory in Puebla de Los Angeles. It began as a show of support for Mexico against the French and grew from there.
Celebrations happened yearly, and in the 1930’s it became a way to honor one’s Mexican heritage.
Here in the US, Cinco de Mayo has become a celebration of Mexican culture, especially in areas with large Mexican-American populations. Los Angeles, California boasts the largest Cinco de Mayo celebration in the country. Festivals and parades are held in many neighborhoods across the city.
Mariachi music, parades, colorful dress, and traditional foods are all part of the festivities!
The Music of Cinco de Mayo
Roots of Mariachi music go back to the 15th and 16th centuries. The violin, trumpet, and guitar are what make up the band. These instruments were introduced to the native people of Mexico by the Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes.
The familiar sound of Mariachi that we know today traces its roots back to Jalisco, Mexico. It’s unique sound and style are synonymous with Mexican folk-music.
Authentic Flavors of Mexico
While Tex-Mex foods, like tacos and burritos, are a typical and familiar part of the celebrations, mole poblano is considered to be the authentic “dish of Cinco de Mayo,” and the national dish of Mexico. The mole (pronounced like the end of guacamole) is a deep reddish-brown sauce, traditionally served with turkey or chicken.
Dating back to the Aztec people of Mexico, it’s a rich and fragrant dish that can include up to 20 different ingredients! The key ingredient in mole is xocolatl. That’s the Aztec word for chocolate. They reserved chocolate for special occasions, important celebrations, and temple rituals.
They didn’t break out the chocolate bars or candy kisses, though. The chocolate that’s used in mole sauce is the unsweetened version, which, by itself, is pretty bitter.
There are as many as 300 versions of mole sauce. The ingredients vary, but the main ones are chocolate, dried ancho chiles, cinnamon, anise, cloves, pumpkin seeds, and plantains.
You can learn more about the history of Mexico here: Exploring the History of Mexico.
Running of the Chihuahuas-off to the Races!
Of all the events celebrated on Cinco de Mayo, one that’s been gaining popularity in places across the US from Washington D.C. to Chandler, Arizona, is a Chihuahua race!
The tiny dogs are native to the country and named after the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
Many of the races feature Chihuahuas that have been rescued, and most, if not all, of the entrance fees are donated to shelters and dog charities.
No matter how you choose to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, it’s all about Mexican culture and heritage. Good food, lively music, and exploring the world around you with our eat2explore Mexico box!