Here in the States, we get pumped up for Cinco de Mayo. It’s just one more excuse for us to drink margaritas and eat tacos shamelessly. Duh. But the reality is, Cinco de Mayo is a holiday with deep-seeded roots in Mexican history, roots that many of us may not know.
It’s shocking, I know, but this day is about more than drinking an unholy amount of tequila. So this year, prepare to be the smartest person in the bar when you drop these thirteen facts about Cinco de Mayo.
1. Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day
Contrary to what some might think, the Mexican Independence Day is actually September 16th, not May 5th. The 16th is remembered as the day the Mexican war for independence began against the Spanish government in 1810.
For this reason, Cinco de Mayo is not nearly as popular a holiday in Mexico as El Grito de la Independencia is in September.
2. The Holiday Celebrates a Much Smaller Military Victory
And a much more obscure one. May 5th is the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla in 1862, during which the guerilla troops of General Ignacio Seguin Zaragoza fought off Napoleon’s troops during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867).
The battle for the town of Puebla was an unexpected victory for the Mexican soldiers, marking a decisive win against French invaders. You don’t hear much about that in history class, do you?
3. The Popularity of Cinco de Mayo in America Was a Political Move
President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted something called the “Good Neighbor Policy," which was meant to improve relations with Latin American countries and communities.
It was under this policy that Cinco de Mayo began to pick up steam in the 1950s and 60s, eventually becoming a national holiday. Drinking incessantly to improve international relations? Rock on, FDR.
4. Canada Celebrates Cinco de Mayo in a Unique Way
Because of its commercial success, other countries like Malta, Australia, the Cayman Islands, and Canada celebrate Cinco de Mayo as well. In Vancouver, the holiday is celebrated in an extra bizarre way.
The tradition is called a “skydiving boogie” (you know it’s going to be amazing based on that name alone) and involves aerial acrobatics and an annual air show. Canada is doing something very right.
5. Los Angeles Has the Biggest Cinco de Mayo Celebration
LA’s celebration is even bigger than the festival in the Mexican city of Puebla. That’s saying something. The party is called Fiesta Broadway and has been a huge celebration since the 1990s.
Most major streets in L.A. are blocked off to host hundreds of thousands of people celebrating Mexican heritage with food, music, dancing, and crafts.
6. Tequila Was Once Thought to Be the Nectar of the Gods
Not surprisingly, 47% of all drinks ordered on Cinco de Mayo are margaritas. Tequila sales easily double within the week leading up to this infamous holiday. But, long ago this beloved Mexican alcohol couldn’t be enjoyed by all Mexican people.
Centuries ago, Aztec priests used to make a milky beer-like drink from the agave plant called pulque. Only the priests could consume this precursor of tequila, which after a steep decline is slowly beginning to make a comeback.
7. Other Historical Events Also Happened on May 5th
Which we all tend to ignore in favor of a few Dos Equis. Among the historic events on May 5th are the opening of Carnegie Music Hall and the launch of the first American-manned flight into space in 1961. Tough break, history. Cinco de Mayo’s got you beat.
8. One Arizona Town Celebrates with Chihuahua Races
The town of Chandler, Arizona has your typical Cinco de Mayo celebration. Food, music, parades, dancing – and Chihuahua races. Right, totally normal.
Townspeople enter their Chihuahuas into this race (think horse racing on a much smaller scale) and receive a large cash prize if their Chihuahua is the fastest. Strange? Yes. Weirdly adorable? Absolutely.
9. The Battle of Puebla Placed a Foreign Emperor in Mexico
Although Mexican troops won the initial Battle of Puebla, French troops came back strong and eventually took over Mexico for a short amount of time. They instituted Emperor Maximilian of Austria, who was essentially a puppet through which European nations could control Mexico.
The story of Maximilian is one shrouded in legend; eventually, those loyal to the General Ignacio Seguin Zaragoza rose up against Maximilian, capturing and executing him and his generals.
But the legend goes that Maximilian survived the execution and made his way into the States by a secret U.S. society. Think the Freemasons … only more secretive.
10. Cinco de Mayo is the Biggest Day of the Year for Avocados
Although guacamole (and avocados in general) is extremely popular nowadays, May 5th is still the biggest day for guacamole sales. The California Avocado Commission reports that 87 million pounds of avocados are purchased just for Cinco de Mayo celebrations. That’s a whole lot of avocado.
11. Ten States Consume More Tequila Than Any Others
And those badass states include – New York, Ohio, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Colorado, Nevada, California, Arkansas, and of course, Texas. Now make your Cinco de Mayo plans accordingly.
12. Mole Poblano is the Authentic Cinco de Mayo Dish
If you want to do Cinco de Mayo right, put down the taco. The traditional dish eaten in the town of Puebla on their big holiday is mole poblano (pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable, like guacamole).
Invented in the late 17th century, mole is a thick sauce made with chocolate, chili peppers, and other spices. Traditionally, the sauce covers succulent turkey legs. Yum.
13. Beer Sales Generate Around $658 million from Cinco de Mayo
Not a margarita person? You can contribute to the nearly $700 million of sales for the beer industry in the week leading up to Cinco de Mayo instead.
Surprisingly, this number is only the 7th largest holiday revenue for the beer industry … we have a feeling St. Patrick’s Day and the Fourth of July may have something to do with that.