15 Fun Cinco De Mayo Facts You Probably Don't Know (But Should)

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traditional Mexican dancers in the park on Cinco de Mayo

Even if you don't speak Spanish, you probably know what Cinco de Mayo means in English ... May 5.

But while the name of this Mexican-American holiday is understandably associated with margaritas, enchiladas, and yes, plenty of muchachos y muchachas mingling, we should all be conscious of the fact that the day's significance goes deeper than being an excuse for a fun night out on the town.

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What is Cinco de Mayo's meaning in a historical context and why is it celebrated in both Mexico and the United States?

Dancing to traditional Mexican mariachi music and doing tequila shots without choking takes practice, and understanding Cinco de Mayo's history takes learning a few Cinco de Mayo fun facts. So here are 15 facts about Cinco de Mayo history to share with your friends and loved ones as you celebrate Mexican-American culture together in style.

15 Fun Facts About Cinco De Mayo

1. Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day.

Ask a random person what Cinco de Mayo celebrates, and you'll probably hear either "Two-for-one cervezas?" or "Mexican Independence Day?"

Wrong and wrong!

The latter is actually celebrated on September 16 — dieciséis de Septiembre — "to celebrate the 'cry of independence' on September 16, 1810, which started a revolt against the Spaniards,' and coming one day after the September 15 celebration of the "Cry of Dolores (Spanish: Grito de Dolores) ... a historical event that occurred in Dolores (now Dolores Hidalgo), Mexico, in the early morning of 16 September 1810 [when] Roman Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang the bell of his church and gave the pronunciamiento (call to arms) that triggered the Mexican War of Independence."

2. Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico's victory at the Battle of Puebla.

Cinco de Mayo is a holiday that celebrates the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican war. General Ignacio Zaragoza led the Mexican army to defeat invading French troops.

On May 5, 1862, "the army of the liberal government headed by Benito Juárez" won the battle against "the French forces sent by Napoleon III to establish a French satellite state in Mexico."

The Mexican state of Puebla is in mountainous East-Central Mexico, well known for chapulas, mole poblano, and being highly industrialized.

3. The victory over the French was a really big deal.

Back to the battle ... At the time, the French army hadn't been defeated in nearly 50 years. They had fancy weapons and 8,000 men, but that wasn't enough to beat the 4,000 Mexicans defending Puebla.

And extra fun fact: there hasn't been a European military invasion in the Americas since.

4. The Battle of Puebla wasn't only a victory for Mexico — it affected the outcome of the American Civil War.

Many historians say the French ventured into Mexico not only because the bankrupt Mexican government suspended debt payments to France, but also because they saw an opportunity within the neighboring United States.

Author David Roos says, "Napoleon figured if he could get his hands on Mexico, it could become the first colony in a new French stronghold in Central America. Abraham Lincoln was busy fighting the Civil War, so the Americans wouldn’t stand in Napoleon’s way. Even better, with a French puppet government installed in Mexico City, Napoleon could provide guns to the Confederacy in exchange for Southern cotton, a scarce commodity in Europe thanks to Union shipping blockades."

Can you imagine what life would be like now if the northern Union states had lost the Civil War?

5. People in Mexico don't really celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Many Americans throw huge Cinco de Mayo celebrations ... even though most don't know what the holiday's about, as is unfortunately fairly typical of Americans.



According to Wikipedia, "In Mexico, the commemoration of the battle continues to be mostly ceremonial, such as through military parades or battle reenactments. The city of Puebla marks the event with an arts festival, a festival of local cuisine, and re-enactments of the battle."

The popularity of this celebration of Mexican-American culture within the U.S. shouldn't be mistaken for mere cultural appropriation, however.

As explained by the editors of, "Chicano activists raised awareness of the holiday in the 1960s, in part because they identified with the victory of indigenous Mexicans (such as Juárez) over European invaders during the Battle of Puebla."

Some of the biggest Cinco de Mayo celebrations and festivals take place in California, Texas, Nevada, and Colorado.

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6. F.D.R brought Cinco de Mayo to the United States.

The holiday of another's country was brought to the US thanks to a little diplomacy FDR made. President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed a Good Neighbor Policy in 1933 in order to improve relations with Latin American countries. This policy allowed Cinco de Mayo to become a mainstream American holiday.

Though FDR made the holiday popular in the 1930s, it didn't officially become a US holiday until 2005 when Congress passed it.

7. California was the first state in the US to celebrate the holiday.

Thanks to a large number of Mexican immigrants, California jumped on the holiday bandwagon long before the policy was passed in 1933. They celebrated as early as 1863.

8. Mole Poblano is the official dish.

Tacos and margaritas are great, but they are not the official dish of the holiday. It is actually mole poblano! For those who don't know this authentic Mexican dish, it is a dark brown sauce made with Mexican chocolate and a ton of spices. The dish's origins come from the Mexican city of Puebla where the victory occurred.

9. The General has a city named after him.

The general who led the Mexicans into battle, Ignacio Zaragoza, and defeated the undefeated French Army was honored for his victory. He was born in what is now southern Texas and was only 33 years old at the time of the battle. The city Puebla was renamed Puebla de Zaragoza in his honor.

10. Kids in Mexico get the day off of school.

Though Cinco de Mayo isn't a commercial or a federal holiday in Mexico, some kids do get the day off from school.

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11. American's eat way too many avocados on Cinco de Mayo.

Guacamole is a staple treat for Americans on Cinco de Mayo, which means we consume a lot of avocados. According to the California Avocado Commission, we eat around 80 million pounds of avocados on Cinco de Mayo alone in the US.

12. The battle is reenacted every year.

In Mexico City, the public reenacts the historic battle of Puebla every year on Cinco de Mayo. The event attracts tons of tourists and history buffs.

13. Los Angeles holds the biggest celebration in the world.

The city of Los Angeles hosts the largest celebration of the holiday, which didn't even originate in the States. The celebration spreads from Olvera Street to Broadway. It's even bigger than the celebration in the city of Puebla where the holiday comes from. Houston and Chicago are not far behind either.

14. There's an annual Cinco de Mayo air guitar competition.

At the Hard Rock Cafe in the Cayman Islands, there is an annual air guitar contest on Cinco de Mayo.

15. Cinco de Mayo decorations are traditionally done in red, white and green.

This color palette is the same as the colors of the Mexican flag.

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Amanda Green is a freelance writer with special interest in entertainment, dating, science, tech, and wellness.