What Does Cinco de Mayo Really Celebrate? The Truth Behind 3 Misconceptions

By Rachel Christian

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cinco de mayo mariachi

In the US, Cinco de Mayo is an annual celebration of Mexican heritage and culture. However, the popularity of this holiday has generated some equally-popular myths. Here are a few major misconceptions about Cinco and Mayo and the real history behind them.

1. Myth: Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day.

Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. In fact, the holiday was created over 50 years after Mexico gained its independence. Rather, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Battle of Puebla, which was fought on May 5, 1862.

When invading French troops arrived at the small town of Puebla, a ragtag army of Mexican soldiers went out to meet them. Despite being outnumbered 2 to 1, the Mexicans soldiers defeated the French with very little loss on their side. While not not a major or decisive win, the Battle of Puebla became a symbolic victory for Mexico.

The real Mexican Independence Day is celebrated on September 16; the day when, in 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang the bells of his church and gave a call to arms that sparked the Mexican War of Independence.

2. Myth: Cinco de Mayo is widely celebrated in Mexico.

While the US celebrates with barbecues, mariachi music and more than a few margaritas, Cinco de Mayo isn’t as widely observed in Mexico. To this day, the holiday is most popular in the town of Puebla and is usually celebrated with parades and reenactments.

3. Myth: Cinco de Mayo has been celebrated in the US for a long time.

Cinco de Mayo was first popularized in the US by civil rights activists in the 1960s who saw the holiday as an opportunity to celebrate Mexican-American pride. Since then, it has made huge gains in popularity. Some attribute this to the commercialization of Cinco de Mayo by beer importers and beverage companies.

While you’re celebrating Cinco de Mayo this year, keep the holiday’s origins in mind. You just might be able to share a fun fact or two over margaritas!

Last updated, April 2023

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