What is Cinco de Mayo and how to celebrate it at home or out on the town

Cinco de Mayo dance

Cinco de Mayo dancers in Washington DC by Flickr dbking

Happy Mexican Independence Day! Errr…what is Cinco de Mayo anyway? Take a quick look below to find out the true occasion, and get some tips on how to celebrate, including throwing your own Cinco de Mayo party!

Cinco de Mayo history

Blow away party guests with these Brainiac facts. On May 5, 1862, during the War of French Intervention in Mexico, the Battle of Puebla occurred near the town of Puebla, Mexico. The French army faced off against an ill-equipped and outnumbered Mexican army, expecting an easy win, but the underdog’s victory is the reason we celebrate today.

  • French army: 8,000 troops vs. Mexican army: 4,000 troops
  • The win by the Mexican army proved that the war would not be easily won by France
  • According to a contributor on Hispanic Culture Online in “Cinco de Mayo History,” the Mexican general attacked the French by stampeding cattle ahead of his own forces!
  • The holiday was a small, mostly local celebration until the 1960s and 1970s, during the U. S. civil rights movement
  • Chicano activists in the United States embraced Cinco de Mayo as a holiday to celebrate Hispanic culture in a nation where they, like the Mexican army, were outnumbered
  • 2012 marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Puebla
  • Mexicans also celebrate their independence from Spain on El Grito de la Independencia, September 16th

Throwing your own Cinco de Mayo celebration

In areas of the United States with large Mexican-American populations, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated with parades, street festivals, and mariachi music. But, if you don’t have a large festival in your area, you can still bring a little Cinco de Mayo celebration to your dorm room or apartment without defaulting to a Taco Bell or Chipotle dinner.

  • Decorate. Put up a Mexican flag or use green, white, and red balloons to create a festive atmosphere.
  • Put on some Mariachi music. Traditional folk music isn’t your style? Pop on some music by Luis Miguel, Selena or Carlos Santana.
  • Build a traditional Mexican snack bar beyond chips and guac. You can start with a traditional ponche, or punch, made with guava, sugarcane, raisins, and apples. You can serve the punch with antojitos, or finger foods, like quesadillas, tamales, and small tacos or taquitos.
  • If you’re ambitious and want to make a full meal, several sites have Cinco de Mayo recipes available. May Herz of Inside Mexico offers a traditional recipe for Mole Poblano in “Desde la Cocina.” This traditional dish combines spicy chiles and chocolate for a chicken or turkey meal that can’t be beat.

Celebrating out and about

Not interested in having people over? There’s plenty to do out on the town in honor of the holiday. Many festivals incorporate activities you can find in your local area at any time of year.

  • Take a zumba class. While this is no danza folklórica, zumba is a fun way to celebrate Latin music and get your dance on.
  • Many cities host Cinco de Mayo races like a fun 5k. Many races raise funds for a good cause, helping those who face overwhelming odds — like the Mexican army against the French.
  • Collect canned food and donate it to your local soup kitchen. Some Cinco de Mayo festivals incorporate a canned food drive and fundraisers into the celebration.
  • Read about the Franco-Mexican War or about the Mexican American civil rights movement to get a new perspective on the events that brought the Cinco de Mayo celebration to the United States.

However you decide to celebrate, remember that Cinco de Mayo is about people facing overwhelming odds and succeeding — something that people of any culture can relate to!

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