Cinco De Mayo 2013: 4 Facts About the Holiday

Cinco de Mayo is once again upon us. Traditionally the province of Mexican heritage enthusiasts and drunk people, this year you can really own the holiday and impress your family and friends with these four fun facts.

Don’t worry, you’ll be getting five facts worth of content on this list, but “Cinco Facts for Cinco de Mayo” is just trite. 

1. Cinco de Mayo Means “Fifth Of May”


Well, technically it means “Five of May,” since “cinco” means “five” and “quinto” means “fifth,” but it’s close enough. This is why when someone asks you, “So, like, when is Cinco de Mayo?”, it means she is either dumb or took French in grade school.  If it's the former, she is probably the perfect audience for this joke you’ve been saving for just such an occasion, “What do you call four matadors in quicksand?  CUATRO SINKO!”

Although, let’s be real, that’s a joke that will kill with both high and low brow audiences, especially if both audience have already had a few margaritas. Those aware of Mexican heritage, whose ranks you are soon to join, might point out that matadors are typically Spanish and that Cinco de Mayo has nothing to do with Spain.  This brings us to fact numero dos. 

2. Cinco de Mayo Does Not Commemorate Mexican Independence


You might be thrown off by the fact that “Cinco de Mayo” follows the naming conventions of “Fourth of July,” and get tricked into thinking Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico’s Independence Day. Don’t worry, this is a classic rookie mistake.  Mexico’s independence day is actually celebrated on September 16.

I’ve found a very effective way to compensate for such a faux pas is to simply throw a very extravagant Mexican Independence Day party in September. Here is how it works: your friends will be sitting around, probably discussing your many shortcomings and one of them will say, “Remember that time Cait thought Cinco de Mayo celebrated Mexico’s independence from Spain? God, what a idiot.” And then someone else will say, “No, she throws a huge Mexican Independence Day party in the fall every year.  It must have been some one else,” and just like that your reputation as a person with a reasonable knowledge of Mexican history is restored. 

3. Cinco de Mayo Commemorates the Battle Of Puebla


Cinco de Mayo actually celebrates the victory of Mexican forces against the French in the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862. Some facts you should know about the Battle of Puebla — that’s right, facts on facts on facts, told ya you’d get your five-facts-worth — include that the victory was of symbolic, rather then strategic significance.  In fact, after the defeat at Puebla, the French still managed to occupy Mexico for six more years through the puppet government of Emperor Ferdinand Maximilian.

Many described this move by Napoleon III as, “#Rude,” but that didn’t stop him.  Nonetheless, Battle of Puebla became a rallying cry for resistance fighters, as it represented the victory of Mexican forces over the French against great odds. 

4. Cinco de Mayo is More Widely Celebrated in the U.S. Than in Mexico


Perhaps due to its dubious significance as an event or the existence of an actual independence day to celebrate instead, Cinco de Mayo is not widely celebrated in Mexico. It’s believed that Cinco de Mayo was first celebrated by Americans of Mexican heritage during the American Civil War. It underwent a resurgence in popularity in the States during the 1960s, when Chicano activists championed the holiday as an example of indigenous people’s rejection of the rule of invading Europeans.

Today Cinco de Mayo can be likened to a Mexican St. Patrick’s Day, in that a) in terms of a celebration of heritage, it matters a lot more to those who have left the country whose heritage it honors, and b) every one else just uses it as an excuse to drink excessive amounts of vaguely ethnically-themed alcohol. For those of you who would like to experience a more authentic Mexican holiday or just want an excuse to ring in the autumn season with a healthy dose of mescal, I will see you on September 16. 

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Caitlin Reilly

Cait is an independent contractor with NPR. She recently graduated with a degree in history and literature from Harvard. In her free time she enjoys taking rec league soccer too seriously, watching embarrassing television, and correcting other people's grammar on facebook.

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