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What is Cinco de Mayo?

Written by
Tina Williamson
Published on
April 14, 2020 11:26:00 PM PDT April 14, 2020 11:26:00 PM PDTth, April 14, 2020 11:26:00 PM PDT

Over the years, Cinco de Mayo has become a popular day to celebrate across America. While many people enjoy the celebration, they don’t all understand what the day’s name means or what the holiday celebrates. Take some time to learn about Cinco de Mayo’s history before celebrating the holiday this year. It will make for a better experience and you can share what you have learned with your friends and families. Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), you may need to celebrate Cinco de Mayo at home this year based on what your city’s “Stay at Home” requirements are on May 5.

 

Cinco de Mayo Origin in Mexico and the U.S.

Americans often incorrectly think that Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico’s Independence Day. That day is actually September 16, and it recognizes Mexico’s War of Independence from Spain on September 16, 1810. Cinco de Mayo, translated "Fifth of May" in English, celebrates the Mexican Army’s victory over the French Army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The defeat near Puebla City, Mexico, raised the spirits of the Mexican Army since they were able to defeat a much larger and better equipped French Army while slowing their march to Mexico City. In Mexico, this victory is now mainly celebrated in the state of Puebla although other areas of Mexico do celebrate as well. Celebrations typically include parades and festivals.


 One of the first recorded times Cinco de Mayo was observed and celebrated in the U.S. was in 1863. Mexican miners working in California’s mines, fired their guns, set off fireworks, sang patriotic songs and gave speeches in a spontaneous celebration of Mexico’s defeat of France. Cinco de Mayo gained popularity in California during the 1940s during the Mexican-American population growth and the start of the Mexican-American civil rights movement (The Chicano Movement) of the 1960s.


Recognition of the holiday spread throughout the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s. By the 1980s, advertisers popularized Cinco de Mayo as a reason to celebrate. Many people take this day to enjoy Mexican culture, food and music in America. Cinco de Mayo is especially popular in parts of the U.S. with large Mexican-American populations such as: Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, New York, Cleveland, Boston, Indianapolis, Raleigh, Dallas, San Antonio, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, Denver, St. Paul, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Tucson, San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego.

 

Popular Ways to Celebrate Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo has become more commercialized in the United States vs. Mexico. It isn’t a federal holiday in the U.S. like it is in Mexico. Many Americans see Cinco de Mayo as mainly a drinking holiday with popular drinks including tequila and margaritas, but it is more than that. For many Mexican-Americans, it is a time to celebrate their traditions, culture and community. Across the country, Cinco de Mayo celebrations include Mexican music, traditional dances along with Mexican food and decorations including the Mexican flag. In cities highly populated by Mexican-Americans, there are bigger celebrations including parades, festivals, carnivals and concerts. Although Cinco de Mayo is most popular in Mexico and the U.S., other places around the world have joined in on the holiday celebrations including: Canada, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa, Nigeria, France and Japan.

 

Mexican Flag History

Mexico used a variety of flag designs during its War of Independence from Spain (1810-1821) before the first national Mexican flag was created. The first time the green, white and red colors were used in the Mexican flag was by the Army of the Three Guarantees after winning independence from Spain on September 27, 1821.


The 1821 flag had three vertical stripes of green, white and red with the Mexican coat of arms centered in the white stripe. The colors of the flag were symbolic: Green = Independence, White = Religion and Red = Union. The coat of arms on the middle white stripe was made up of a crowned golden eagle sitting atop a prickly pear cactus on a rock in water. The coat of arms represents the Aztec heritage. According to the Aztecs, the gods told them an eagle perched on a prickly pear tree eating a snake would represent where they should establish their city. Legend has it that the Aztecs saw this eagle on the site that is now Mexico City’s main plaza.


A few years later, the eagle’s crown was removed and a snake was added to the beak and talon. The rock and water was removed and replaced with oak and laurel branches. When Emperor Maxmillian was in power (1864-1867), the flag design became more detailed with crowned eagles placed in each corner of the flag and a more ornate coat of arms with shield, scepter, sword, two griffins on elders’ arms and the imperial crown. The flag proportion also changed from 4:7 to 1:2. During this time period, the flag color symbolism changed as well to: Green = Hope, White = Purity and Red = Religion.


The current Mexican flag design was adopted on September 16, 1968, and was confirmed by law on February 24, 1984. The current Mexican flag still uses the same green, white and red color pattern with the colors now symbolizing: Green = Hope, White = Union and Red = Blood of Heroes. The flag has an updated design of the eagle coat of arms without all of the ornate decorations from when Emperor Maxmillian was in power. Mexico’s flag proportion is now 4:7. Interesting facts: Although Mexico and Italy’s flags use the same three colored stripe design (green, white and red), Mexico’s flag uses darker shades of green and red and a flag proportion of 4:7 vs. Italy’s flag proportion of 2:3. Italy’s flag is also missing a coat of arms in the middle white stripe. Flag Day in Mexico is celebrated every February 24 to honor the flag.

 

Cinco de Mayo and Mexico Flag information referenced from: https://en.wikipedia.org