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Cinco de Mayo - the Basics

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Cinco de Mayo - the Basics

The Flag of the United States of Mexico

Basic Guide to Cinco de Mayo:

Cinco de Mayo is probably the holiday most often celebrated that no one understands. What’s it all about? How is it celebrated? What does it mean to Mexicans? Here are the answers in a handy guide.

What is Cinco de Mayo?:

Literally "the Fifth of May," Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican Holiday celebrating the Battle of Puebla, which took place on May 5, 1862. In 1861, France sent a massive army to invade Mexico, as they wanted to collect on some war debts. The French army was much larger, better trained and equipped than the Mexicans struggling to defend the road to Mexico City. It rolled through Mexico until it reached Puebla, where the Mexicans made a valiant stand, and, against all logic, won a huge victory. It was short-lived, as the French army regrouped and continued; eventually taking Mexico City, but the euphoria of an unlikely victory against overwhelming odds is remembered every May fifth.

Isn’t it Mexico’s Independence Day?:

That's a common misconception. Mexico celebrates its independence on September 16, because it was on that day in 1810 that Father Miguel Hidalgo took to his pulpit in the village church of the town of Dolores and invited his flock to take up arms and join him in overthrowing Spanish tyranny. Independence Day is a very important holiday in Mexico and not to be confused with Cinco de Mayo.

How Big a Deal is Cinco de Mayo?:

Cinco de Mayo is a big deal in Puebla, where the famous battle took place but it really isn't as important as most people think. September 16, Independence Day, is a much more important holiday in Mexico. For some reason, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated more in the United States of America, by Mexicans and Americans alike, than it is in Mexico. One theory for why it is more popular in the USA is that at one time, it was celebrated in all of Mexico and by Mexicans living in former Mexican territories such as Texas and California. It was ignored in Mexico after a while but still celebrated north of the border, which never got out of the habit of remembering the famous battle.

How is Cinco de Mayo Celebrated?:

In Puebla and in many USA cities with large Mexican populations, there are parades, dancing and festivals. Traditional Mexican food is often served or sold. Mariachi bands fill town squares, and a lot of Dos Equis and Corona beers are served. It’s a fun holiday, really more about celebrating the Mexican way of life than about remembering a battle which happened 150 years ago. It is sometimes referred to as a “Mexican St. Patrick’s Day.” In the USA, schoolchildren do units on the holiday, decorate their classrooms and try their hand at cooking some basic Mexican foods. All over the world, Mexican restaurants bring in Mariachi bands and offer specials for what’s almost certain to be a packed house.

How Can I Host a Cinco de Mayo Party?:

It’s easy to host a Cinco de Mayo party! Making basic Mexican food like salsa and burritos is not too complicated, add some decorations and mix some Margaritas and you’re good to go. Look at the links listed below for recipes, decorations and more valuable Cinco de Mayo information from About.com’s team of writers!
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