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What is Cinco de Mayo: The History Behind the Festivities

Updated on July 31, 2016

The history behind the festivities

Cinco de Mayo isn’t all about eating sweets decorated with glitter, dressing up and dancing, and throwing parties. While that is what may pop into your mind when you think of the word, “Cinco de Mayo”, just like the origin of Christmas had nothing to do with Santa Clause bringing presents for good little boys and girls, Cinco de Mayo started out completely different from what people see it as now. In fact, many Chicanos, or Mexican American people, don’t know how Cinco de Mayo began.

The historical event on which the cherished holiday places its origins took place in the little town of Puebla on May 5th, 1862. Benito Juarez, the president of Mexico back then, owed money to France, and to try to force Mexico to pay its debt, Napoleon III, the king of France, attacked it.

On May 5th, 1862, a small town in Mexico, Puebla, was attacked by the French army. It was almost a certain victory for the French. However, the people of Puebla fought back. Women through boiling water at the soldiers and men threw rocks, pots, and pans at them. Mexico did the impossible that day – they won a battle against France. Although Mexico did not win the war, Chicanos celebrate Cinco de Mayo so they too can take pride in their heritage like the Americans do with Independence Day on July 4th and a number of other holidays.

When teaching about Cinco de Mayo, it is important to first, before celebrating, talk about its history. It is an important thing to know, though it might bore kids to tears. Try not to tell the story of Cinco de Mayo as history, but as a story. Tell it as you might tell a story like Goldilocks and the Three Bears or Cinderella. The most important thing to remember is not to make this something that the kids will simply roll their eyes about. It should be a family tradition. Oh course, you obviously cannot control what kids will think, but I suggest telling the story on the night before or the night of Cinco de Mayo at the dinner table.

It is important for children to enjoy the fun of the holiday, celebrate, do crafts, sing, and dance, they should also have a sense of why they are celebrating. Cinco de Mayo was an important event in history, a day of pride for Mexico, and a day to take pride in for the Chicano community in the United States.


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