Early May is a time when you might see Mexican flags, hear Mexican music and get an overwhelming urge to eat Mexican food. That’s because it’s Cinco de Mayo (say “sing-ko deh my-oh”), a holiday celebrating Mexico!
That's the easy part to remember — Cinco de Mayo means "5th of May" in Spanish, the language of Mexico. Same date every year!
That’s where things get more complicated and a lot of history is involved.
The battle of Pueblo (Painting by Mexican artist Francisco de Paul Mendoza, 1902)
Back in 1862 France invaded the young country of Mexico. The French army, being bigger and better trained, seemed unstoppable, and they were until they reached the Mexican town of Puebla.
There, a small Mexican force under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza not only held off the French army, they sent them into full retreat. It didn’t end the war — the French just came back with an even bigger army later — but it was considered a source of pride and a morale-booster for the Mexican people.
The victory of the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, was declared a holiday.
Actually, no. Mexican Independence Day on September 16 is a much bigger holiday.
In the city of Puebla there there are parades and reenactments, but in the rest of Mexico it is not an especially important day anymore. The big celebrations happen on Independence Day.
Cinco de Mayo is actually celebrated more outside of Mexico.
People who had moved away from Mexico started using this easy to remember date as a time to celebrate and honour their home country.
Most of the Cinco de Mayo celebrations take place in the town of Puebla, where people dress up as Mexican and French soldiers to march in the parade and reenact the Mexicans’ victory over the French.
Outside of Mexico, many celebrations don’t get into the history of the day at all. Parades and festivals are held to celebrate Mexican culture and traditions. Los Angeles, California, has a street fair called the Fiesta Broadway that has been celebrated for over 25 years and is the largest Cinco de Mayo festival in the country.
In Canada there are plenty of smaller celebrations, usually involving the red, white and green colours of the Mexican flag and the sounds of mariachi bands — traditional folk music from Mexico. Schools often use the occasion to teach about Mexican culture and the Spanish language.