Cinco de Mayo is one of the biggest celebrations of the year for a lot of people. Like Mardi Gras, it’s a day known for drinking, dancing, and having a good time. It’s a holiday that isn’t wrapped up in religious tradition or centered around family. No one has to wear a suit or tie or get ready for some really awkward encounters with distant relatives. Cinco de Mayo isn’t about drinking to relieve tension--it’s a celebration that’s become about partying pretty hard. Few people know much about Cinco de Mayo before hitting the town, though. Thankfully, we’ve put together a few to school anyone not in the know.
First off, Cinco de Mayo isn’t an Independence Day. Mexico’s Independence Day lands all the way over on September 16th. Though it sounds similar to the Fourth of July, Independence Day for the U.S., it’s nowhere near the same celebration. You’re partying to the tune of a battle won against the well-armed French armies under Napoleon. In 1862, the underdogs, the under-manned Mexican army, defended their land from the French. This battle, the Batalla de Puebla, came to symbolize unity, strength, and bravery in the face of oppression.
It’s also bigger in the U.S. than it is in Mexico! Cinco de Mayo is among some of the smaller holidays in Mexico, despite being huge in the U.S. One of the reasons is because the victory that took place on Cinco de Mayo also marked the very last time that a foreign power has attacked or intended to conquer any part of North America on its own soil. Another big factor is that if Mexico had not been victorious in the Batalla de Puebla, France would have aided the South during the Civil War, changing U.S. history entirely.
Just because Cinco de Mayo is small in Mexico, however, doesn’t mean they don’t have awesome celebrations! On the contrary, there are about 365 festivals, celebrations, and holidays in Mexico. That’s a celebration for every single day. Not all of them are big blowouts, but that’s plenty more to be excited about than there is in a lot of other countries.
While you may want to stick with the safer margarita, tequila is the more accurate Cinco de Mayo drink. Margaritas didn’t come around until the 1930s, well after the Batalla de Puebla and were almost certainly invented by a tourist. The margarita’s origin is cloudy, but stories tend to credit about four different women for its invention well after Cinco de Mayo’s birth.
Speaking of the holiday’s birth, your grandparents and maybe even your parents might not remember partying down on the Fifth of May. It’s not because times were different or somehow less prone to debauchery and partying. It’s because Cinco de Mayo didn’t gain popularity until the 60s and 70s. Students in California noticed that there was no celebration like St. Patrick's Day or Chinese New Year for Mexican citizens, so Chicano students came together to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and the holiday took off from there!
Now that you've had a refresher course, you're ready for a little Cinco de Mayo action. Well, you're ready for some small talk at the bar before the party really starts. As always, drink safely, and have a good one, from all of us at Joonbug!