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It’s Cinco de Mayo — let’s celebrate Mexico!

 

Photo by David licensed CC BY 2.0

Early May is a time when you might see Mexican flags or hear Mexican music. That’s because it’s Cinco de Mayo (say “SING-ko deh MY-oh”). The holiday celebrates Mexico's culture and heritage!

When is it?

That's the easy part to remember. Cinco de Mayo means "5th of May" in Spanish, the language of Mexico. So it's on the same date every year!


What does it celebrate?

Painting by Mexican artist Francisco de Paul Mendoza, 1902

The battle of Pueblo. (Painting by Mexican artist Francisco de Paul Mendoza, 1902)

In Mexico City there is a Metro station named in honour of General Zaragoza and his tomb is a national monumentBack in 1862 France invaded the young country of Mexico. The French army, being bigger and better trained, seemed unstoppable. And they were. That was 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.


So Cinco de Mayo is a big day in Mexico?

Young girls in white and blue costumes are ready to take the stage and dance

Dancers get ready to take the stage at the Cinco de Mayo festival in New Mexico, 2007. (Rick Scibelli/Getty Imates)

Actually, no, but it is in other parts of the world.

In the city of Puebla there are parades and reenactments, but those may be different this year due to current events. But in the rest of Mexico it is not really an important day anymore.

The big celebrations happen on Independence Day on September 16. These celebrations may more challenging or a little different this year.

People who had moved away from Mexico wanted a time to celebrate and honour their home country. Cinco de Mayo became that celebration.


Cinco de Mayo celebrations

Let's see how some have celebrated Cinco de Mayo in the past. Today, with social distancing many of these celebrations may be celebrated differently.

Mexico

a dancer in a beautiful blue and flower striped dress twirls on the stage

Dancers at Cinco de Mayo celebrations, 2017. (Paul Ratje/Getty Images)

Most of the Cinco de Mayo celebrations take place in the town of Puebla. People dress up as Mexican and French soldiers. They march in a parade and reenact the Mexicans’ victory over the French.

United States

two girls drink from pineapples

Grabbing a sweet non-alcoholic pineapple drink at the Fiesta Broadway celebration, 2008. (Photo credit: fredcamino on Visualhunt / CC BY-SA)

Many celebrations don’t get into the history of the day at all. Parades and festivals are held to celebrate Mexican culture and traditions.

Canada

two men from a mariachi band play their guitars

Members of the Mariachi Teocuitatlan perform in 2020. (Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images)

In Canada there are plenty of smaller celebrations. Decorations use the red, white and green colours of the Mexican flag. There are the sounds of traditional folk music from Mexico. Schools use the celebration to teach about Mexican culture and the Spanish language.