Do You Know What it Really Means?
We all know about Cinco de Mayo, right? That’s the holiday where we all sip margaritas and eat Mexican food in honor of Mexico winning their independence! What? It’s not Mexican Independence Day? That’s right, Cinco de Mayo or the 5th of May, while being a fine day to recognize the heritage of our southern neighbors, is not the day that Mexico celebrates its freedom. Mexico actually won its independence from Spain in 1821, and celebrates Independence Day on the 16th of September. Cinco de Mayo is actually the day in 1862 that the Mexican army won a great victory over the French and ultimately defeated them. Still, a fine reason for celebration.
So, what can one expect to see and do on Cinco de Mayo? If you live in a city near the border, or one with a large Mexican-American population, chances are there are plenty of celebrations and heritage festivals going on. Expect to see Mexican folk dances performed by ladies in colorful and flowing dresses, and men in traditional suits with silver buttons and embroidery. You’ll also likely see and hear Mariachi groups – men who walk and sing traditional songs of Mexico while playing string instruments and maybe a trumpet or two.
Even if you aren’t in a town or city with a large Mexican population, you can celebrate by dressing up and making some of the food that you would find at a Cinco de Mayo fiesta. Hold off on the standard tacos though, and instead go for seasoned and grilled chicken (pollo), thin cut steak (carne asada), or other more traditional foods. Of course rice and beans go with it all.
As for what to wear to the festivities – a sombrero, the traditional wide-brimmed hat, is a great place to start. Add to that, any bright cotton shirt or costume piece that incorporates the vibrant colors of the native culture. Silver accents and long, flowing and colorful dresses are always appropriate. Check out these great costumes and accessories and use your imagination.
Want to be able to talk about the actual meaning of Cinco de Mayo with other festival goers? Remember we said that it was a victory over the French in 1862 that is actually commemorated. But the whole story is that it was a far larger invading force that the Mexican army faced. Outnumbered by more than 2 to 1, the Mexicans had one thing on their side – an extremely well-trained cavalry. The Mexican cavalry outmaneuvered and outfought the French infantry and inflicted heavy damage. The Mexican defenders, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, struck down six French invaders for every one of theirs lost. Although the battle lasted only a day, the French retreated and were never able to regain the strength to engage the Mexican army again.
So, in honor of the bravery of Mexican soldiers defending their homeland from invading forces, let’s all celebrate Cinco de Mayo in whatever way we have. If you’re feeling festive and want to show your spirit, put on a costume and join in the dancing. If you just want to watch the fiesta and enjoy the amazing food, then do that. Or grab a margarita and kick your celebration up a notch. However you choose to celebrate on Cinco de Mayo – just don’t wish anyone a happy Independence Day!