In actuality, "the Fifth of May," Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican Holiday celebrating the Battle of Puebla, which took place on May 5, 1862. In 1861, France sent a massive army to invade Mexico, as they wanted to collect on some war debts.
And, while the French army did regroup and eventually take the city, the excitement of winning the first battle was enough for the Mexicans to want to celebrate it each year.
The natural question posed by most people is: Isn’t it Mexico’s Independence Day? That's a common misconception. Mexico celebrates its independence on September 16, because it was on that day in 1810 that Father Miguel Hidalgo took to his pulpit in the village church of the town of Dolores and invited his flock to take up arms and join him in overthrowing Spanish tyranny.
Independence Day is a hugely important and celebrated much more widely and fervently is in Mexico.
There’s a theory that part of the reason Cinco De Mayo is celebrated so strongly in the United States is states like California and Texas, which border Mexico and have a strong Mexican and Mexican-American population, adopted the tradition and celebrated it on a much grander scale. And, as the tradition spread northward, it was adopted by Canadians as well.
In Puebla – the site of the famous battle – and in the areas of the United States with large Mexican populations, there are parades, dancing and festivals. Customary Mexican food is served and/or sold. Mariachi bands play and a large amount of Mexican favorites – Dos Equis and Corona – are served.
In the end, it seems to be more about celebrating the Mexican way of life than winning a battle more than 150 years ago. One thing is certain, the Mexican restaurants and cantinas in your area will be flowing with people looking to enjoy the day in the tradition of Mexico.