Cinco De Mayo History: 5 Fascinating Facts

Cinco de Mayo is a HUGE holiday in the United States, typically celebrated over Mexican food and cervezas. But why do we celebrate it? The truth is that there are a lot of Cinco De Mayo myths (namely, that it’s a celebration of Mexico’s independence). But here are a few facts about Cinco De Mayo history that may surprise you.

What’s the Real Story Behind Cinco De Mayo?

Ask 100 people the true meaning behind Cinco de Mayo and half of them will say it’s the national holiday for downing margaritas and eating jalapeno poppers. The other, soberer half will insist it’s the celebration of Mexico’s independence. Truth is Mexico got its independence back on September 16, 1810. All the revelry for Cinco de Mayo actually centers around an unlikely battle won versus the French on May 5, 1862.


Why Is This Battle So Special?

Between 1858 and 1861, Mexico was in the midst of all kinds of civil unrest. The country borrowed money from England, Spain and France to help with their growing debts. Mexico stalled repayments to England and Spain with vouchers that were essentially glorified IOUs. France wasn’t so understanding. The European nation brought in 8,000 soldiers. Mexico’s 4,500 fighters stood tall for four hours and won the battle.


Why Does the U.S. Care?

It is believed that celebrating Cinco de Mayo got its start in the United States in 1967, when some California State University students decided to commemorate the victory. They saw the celebration as a good way to remember Mexico’s historical win, but also as an opportunity to get a Chicano Studies program going on campus and help a Hispanic holiday gain some sort of nationwide presence.



Does Mexico Care?

While Mexican residents in the Puebla region where the battle was actually waged commemorate the holiday with celebratory events every year, it’s not actually a major Mexican holiday. In fact, the U.S.A. makes a much bigger deal of Cinco de Mayo than its neighbors to the south. As one might expect, Hispanic-rich cities like Los Angeles and San Antonio throw huge annual celebrations. What you might not know is that St. Paul, Minnesota also hosts one of the country’s biggest and most beloved Cinco de Mayo fiestas.


Where did all the Piñatas come in?

Know who to thank for the piñatas at your Cinco de Mayo party? The Chinese, of course. It is believed that famed explorer Marco Polo noticed Asians decorating cow and ox figures with colored paper and stuffing them with seeds. The tradition made its way back to Europe and, at the turn of the 16th century, missionaries from Spain reportedly brought piñatas with them to North America and used them to attract converts to their ceremonies.  DeMarco Williams


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16 Responses to Cinco De Mayo History: 5 Fascinating Facts

  • Kurt says:

    The real meaning of holidays can get lost. Just like the recent international May Day celebrations. It is good pause and remember the real meanings behind occasions, celebrations and holidays.

  • Natalie says:

    I agree with Kurt – Too many holidays now are just celebrated for the sake of it and the next generations are not even aware of their meaning. Keep it alive!

  • Angela says:

    May 5th has many different meanings in many countries, I think it’s also the day Napoleon died!

  • Perry says:

    Just like the recent international May Day celebrations. It is good pause and remember the real meanings behind occasions, celebrations and holidays.

  • Laurence says:

    Thanks for sharing! I knew nothing about this festival, not even that it took place, so nice to both learn about it and what it’s about 😉

  • Anna says:

    Such an interesting historical post! I’ve already heard about this event from a co-student who is from Mexico, but I couldn’t picture myself how it is like. That must be such a great experience to see it live!

  • Texas Ed says:

    So a bunch of Mexicans borrowed money and wouldn’t pay it back, and when the people who lent them the money tried to get their money back, the Mexicans fought them tooth and nail and won…. So we celebrate Mexico stealing money from France? Sounds about right.

    • I agree with Texas Ed. It’s just another holiday for the USA to make money and party. That’s ok. Any excuse will do.

    • Mexican voice says:

      Greetings from Mexico, Texas Ed!

    • IC says:

      At least it did not borrow as much as US has borrowed up-to-date. However, the Real meaning is not because the French came to cash in, but rather, they wanted the country in return, now, it was not the Mexican Regular Army that defeated the french army, but rather a rag-tag Guerilla using Guerilla tactics by hiding in the mountains and appearing to be a larger force than what they really were, but even more, when the french retreated, the guerilla followed them and got the job done. That is what the celebration is all about, not just the fact that it was a stand against the french army

  • I had no idea about the history. Thanks for the education!

  • Abby says:

    Hilarious about the Chinese contribution. I never knew the extent of the margarita-fueled Cinco de Mayo tradition until living in Vegas. Now I have a new tradition: avoiding the Strip on Cinco de Mayo. The ballet last night was lovely.

  • Wanderplex says:

    Thanks for sharing. As an expat to the US, I really knew very little about the holiday, so it’s great to hear the background!

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  • Frank says:

    Hey guys! Great post. I just wrote about Puebla and Cinco de Mayo. What many don’t know is that the French were suffering from severe diarrhea during that 1862 battle :). It’s also conveniently forgotten that the French came back the following year and defeated the Mexicans and ruled Puebla for about 5 years after… But I learned something about the piñatas and the Chinese! Interesting.
    Frank (bbqboy)
    Frank recently posted..Photo Essay; The Colors of OaxacaMy Profile

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