Cinco de Mayo: Mexico’s Misunderstood Celebration


Cinco de Mayo is an often-misunderstood celebration, more widely marked north of the United States-Mexican border than in Mexico itself. Although it’s not the nationwide celebration some think it is in Mexico, it is still celebrated, particularly in Puebla, where its origins lie. If you’re confused, don´t worry, you’re not the only one. Here’s a brief history of Cinco de Mayo to clear up some commonly held mistruths.


History of Cinco de Mayo: In Brief

In 1861, Mexico was suffering financially and unable to repay its debts to foreign governments. In response, the English, French, and Spanish sent armies across the waters to strongarm the Mexican government into repaying.

Mexico managed to renegotiate with the English and Spanish, who withdrew. But the French used the opportunity to make a land-grab, invading Veracruz towards the end of 1861.

On the ascendency, a French army of around 6,000-strong aimed their attack at Puebla de Los Angeles. In response, a motley crew of 2,000 to 5,000 indigenous and mixed-heritage warriors met them on May 5, 1862.

The Battle of Puebla ended in Mexican victory, becoming a symbol of resistance for the Mexican people. Cinco de Mayo (5th of May in English) marks that unexpected victory over the French. Though significant, the victory was not definitive; it took five more years for the French to leave Mexico finally.


How is Cinco de Mayo celebrated in Mexico?

The largest Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Mexico take place in Puebla, where the victory took place. Here, thousands take part in a parade through the streets. There’s a reenactment of the battle and a grand celebration after the Mexican forces have claimed their victory. Elsewhere in Mexico, however, Cinco de Mayo isn’t a big celebration.

puebla celebrating cinco de mayo
puebla centro historico cinco de mayo


Why is Cinco de Mayo celebrated in the United States?

In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is more a celebration of Mexican culture rather than Mexico’s victory over the French. Although 5 de Mayo is celebrated all over the States, it’s particularly popular in areas with a high Mexican population.

The first Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the United States reportedly took place in Southern California just a year after the war. However, by the 1950s, the celebrations had morphed into a more generalized celebration of Mexico and its culture. Rumor has it that the Cinco de Mayo celebration really took off in New York, because it had a large populations of Mexican immigrants from Puebla.


Ready to Celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Puebla?

Experience Cinco de Mayo in its true home, Puebla, with Journey Mexico. As well as booking elite accommodations (our go-to is Banyan Tree Puebla!) and organizing private transfers, we can also organize privately guided tours led by expert guides. Visit Puebla’s most historic sites, including the fortresses’ where the battle of 5 de Mayo took place, and dive into Mexico’s rich and fascinating history. To organize your trip, simply speak to one of our travel planners and they will guide you through the trip planning process. Our personalized journeys start from $1,000 USD per day for two travelers in Puebla. Every trip includes a personal, in-country travel assistant available 24/7 to ensure a seamless experience.

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