Cinco de Mayo is a day of great feasting, drinking, dancing and celebration of all that it is to be Mexican. However, this primarily takes place in the USA. In Mexico itself, it's a holiday in the state of Puebla, but elsewhere it's not really marked. Naturally, the tourist resorts have recently recognized that it's expected to be a thoroughly Mexican event, hence they will cater for it. It's mostly to allow American visitors the chance to celebrate the festival, while in Mexico. So what's it all about then?
Cinco de Mayo translates as May the 5th. It marks the anniversary of one of the great 'what if?' turning points of modern history. On May 5th, 1862, the people of Puebla took on an invading French force. The French troops were highly organized and experienced; and they carried much superior weaponry. They also vastly outnumbered the defending Mexicans. Nevertheless, in a true David and Goliath type clash, the Pueblans won.
They shouldn't have won. No-one had expected them to win. Yet they sent the French packing (briefly) from Mexican shores. For Mexico, the story wasn't over. The French returned a year later and occupied the country for another three. However, for the USA, that breathing space was enough to alter everything. If the French had controlled Mexico, in 1862, then Napolean would have supplied the Confederency. The South would have almost certainly gone on to win the American Civil War.
The Mexican victory, at the Battle of Puebla, gave the Union forces time to consolidate. The decisive Battle of Gettysburg occurred just 14 months afterwards. Alternatively, if the French had won, then Napolean would have made good on his own policies, which was to use Mexico as a base to invade the weakened American Union. The combined forces of France and Mexico would have entered America through the established and victorious Confederate States of America. Napolean's long-term strategy was a classic divide and conquer. Would the USA have been added to the French Empire?
Though not widely celebrated in Mexico, it is a day which Mexicans can look back upon with pride. After all, while in a weakened and practically bankrupt state (the Mexican-American wars had just ended), we kicked out a vastly superior invading army. It was a huge morale boost for Mexico at the time. It continues to be throughout the intervening years.
If you are in Mexico today and wish to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, then the city of Puebla is the place to be. Here you will find the extravagant parades and street parties. You may sample a variety of traditional Mexican food from the booths set up in and around Boulevard Cinco de Mayo. However, please note that many of the shops will be closed, as this is a state holiday. Enjoy!