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A Guide to Cinco de Mayo Celebrations in Mexico
Cinco de Mayo Celebrations
Twenty years ago, the mention of Cinco de Mayo probably brought questioning stares from many Americans. Today, the day is as much an unofficial holiday as St. Patrick’s Day. In the United States, it is a celebration of the Mexican heritage and culture. In Mexico, however, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of the triumphant underdog and a remembrance of a very important battle in Mexican history – the Battle of Puebla, or “la Batalla de Puebla.” Though many Americans mistake Cinco de Mayo with Mexican Independence, which occurred fifty years prior to la Batalla de Puebla, this day commemorates the Mexican spirit in defeating 8,000 French troops who invaded Mexico in 1862. By repelling the French Army, 3,000 Mexican soldiers ensured that the 5th of May – Cinco de Mayo – would forever live on as a holiday.
The day is a national holiday throughout Mexico but nowhere is it celebrated with more vivaciousness than in Puebla. For this city of 1.2 million, Cinco de Mayo is the most important holiday of the year. Other areas in Mexico celebrate but none as joyously as Puebla.
Cinco de Mayo - Battle of Puebla
The main festivities occur on Boulevard Cinco de Mayo where vendors set up taco stands, straw hats, bright umbrellas, watermelon, confetti, mangoes and an enormous assortment of Mexican food and drinks, such as tacos Arabes, jicama and aguas. This street is the main route of the Cinco de Mayo parade, and is closed in the early morning hours. Metal folding chairs line the street – an upfront seat costs approximately $5 US – street sweepers clean in preparation and vehicles find other routes to reach their destinations.
The parade begins with Mexican military dressed as revolutionaries parading tanks, armored personal vehicles, and humvees. The street vendors get in on the act by playing the part of the fleeing French soldiers, wheeling their carts in panic down the street, a re-enactment of Cinco de Mayo in 1862. High school vanguards, school bands and military cadets march behind the troops. In true parade fashion, the rest of the three to four hour event is filled with colorful floats, mariachi bands, women in colorful ruffled skirts and pleasant blouses dancing. Preparing for the parade takes months every year, and can involve as many as 500,000 participants who march directly in the parade. After this special event, the party continues throughout the city as mariachi bands perform, brightly-dressed women dance, and families visit street vendors and restaurants.
When visiting Puebla for Cinco de Mayo, be sure to visit the park where the battlefield once stood. A statue of General Zaragosa – the war’s hero – riding on horseback takes center stage in the park. One of the forts is now a war museum with a miniature display of La Batalla de Puebla. When visiting Puebla, also keep in mind that nearly everything is closed – stores and banks for example – so exchanging money and stocking up on camera batteries should be done in the days prior to the parade. Hotel rooms should also be booked well in advance as hotel rooms fill quickly and there may be no vacancies close to the holiday.
Cinco de Mayo Celebrations
Elsewhere in Mexico, celebrations are much more low-key. Many towns host their own parades and street celebrations with vendors, music and dancing, though on a much smaller scale than in Puebla. Some towns, such as Penon de los Banos, a suburb of Mexico City, organize re-enactments of the Batalla. For the people of Penon, this play is tradition. Some re-enactments even use real rifles, and occasionally people do get hurt. Throughout the country, members of the Mexican military swear their allegiance to Mexico on Cinco de Mayo
In Cinco de Mayo celebrations throughout the world, the day is one filled with Mexican culture – tacos, aguas, Corona, piñatas, dancing, music, and bright straw hats. Wherever the celebration is held, the end of the day brings shouts of “Viva Mexico!” as people remember a time when they were vastly outnumbered and still repelled the invading French. Viva Mexico!