How long has Cinco de Mayo been celebrated?
Cinco de Mayo is a traditional fiesta in the USA and Mexico, celebrated annually on the fifth of May (funnily enough, given that that’s its literal translation). It all started back in 1863 in Southern California as a show of unity with Mexico, who won the Battle of Puebla a year before. A key victory for the Mexican Army, they defeated the French despite having smaller numbers. ¡Muy bien!
From friendship to fiesta…
Originally, the holiday was first celebrated in Southern California, Mexico’s neighbor. Because the Battle of Puebla helped keep the French from supporting the Confederate Army, the Union forces were able to advance. It ended up being seen as a turning point of the Civil War. (Double whammy). Since then, it’s become one of the USA’s largest holidays, but there are several key differences between celebrations in America and those in Mexico.
How is Cinco de Mayo celebrated in the USA?
In the 1930s, the day became one of community inclusion by celebrating Mexican heritage. By the 1950s and ’60s, younger Mexican-Americans had adopted Cinco de Mayo as a way to honor pride in their cultural identity. Commercialization soon snowballed, with beer and wine companies running ad campaigns to cash in on the holiday. By the ’80s, the US Cinco de Mayo traditions were ones of Mexican food and drink, parades and parties.
Nowadays, although it’s not a national US holiday, it’s celebrated on a similar scale to St. Patrick’s Day. Widely celebrated in the USA by Hispanic and American communities alike, it’s seen as a colorful, vibrant opportunity to embrace all things Hispanic. But don’t get it twisted — it’s not Mexican Independence Day. (That’s September 16).
How is Cinco de Mayo celebrated in Mexico?
Mosey on down to Mexico, or better still, Puebla de Los Ángeles (where it all began), and it’s a different kettle of culture.
Firstly, although the day is still a holiday there, the festivities are much more military than margaritas. Unlike in the US, children do get off school (a cause for celebration in itself!) and the focus in Puebla is mainly on remembering the battle — you’ll see recreations of it acted out for you in the street. There are parties, flamenco dancers, fireworks, and colorful costumes, with the Cinco de Mayo parade as one of the main attractions. In other parts of Mexico, it’s not as widely celebrated. Puebla de Los Ángeles is the place to be if you want to sample authentic Mexican culture on the day.
Cinco de Mayo in the US could sometimes be accused of cultural appropriation, as there can be a tendency to whack on a sombrero and eat nachos without really thinking about proper Mexican culture. This year, why not discover more about this incredible country and its fascinating traditions?
Try (real) local food and drink
Instead of just downing a worm, in Puebla you can tour a range of different bars and sample several different specialities. Or try one of the most popular Cinco de Mayo food choices — mole, a sauce made from fruit, tomatillos, chiles, and spices. Puebla hosts the International Mole Festival as part of their festivities. The town’s own recipe, mole poblano, includes chocolate. ¡Si, por favor! You can even learn how to make it after a guided stroll through the barrios and mercados to a home-cooking class. Talk about getting a taste of the culture.
Admire art and architecture
What about learning some Mexican history and supporting local artisans? You can do both on a two-day tour from Mexico City, by travelling to Taxco, Cuernavaca, Cholula, and Puebla: four of the country’s most fascinating locations. Meander through Puebla’s Artist Quarter with its ambient artisanal silver shops and learn about the history of the town center with its cobbled streets, ancient squares, and one of Mexico’s oldest and grandest cathedrals.
Head to Puebla
Rather than the often-generalised approach of all things Mexican across the US, a visit to Puebla — with its Cinco de Mayo forts — will get you right into the heart of the atmosphere. Only a two-hour drive from Mexico City, Puebla is the country’s fourth largest city, and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there is plenty to see and do every month of the year. But Cinco de Mayo, Puebla-style? That’s un día you don’t wanna miss.