When is Cinco de Mayo—And Why is it Really Celebrated? | Almanac.com

When is Cinco de Mayo—And Why is it Really Celebrated?

Primary Image
Men in black costumes dance with women in colorful costumes
Photo Credit
Sheila Fitzgerald

The History and Meaning Behind Cinco de Mayo

Print Friendly and PDF
No content available.

Many Americans—especially those with Mexican heritage—will celebrate Cinco de Mayo on May 5. What exactly is Cinco de Mayo all about? See if you know the real meaning behind this day—and enjoy some delicious recipes to make at home!

When is Cinco de Mayo?

Cinco de Mayo occurs annually on May 5. In 2024, Cinco de Mayo will be celebrated on a Sunday. It is not a public holiday. Businesses have normal opening hours. 

When Is Cinco de Mayo This Year?
YearDay of Cinco de Mayo
2024Sunday, May 5
2025Monday, May 5
2026Tuesday, May 5
2027Wednesday, May 5

The Origin of Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo is often confused with Mexico’s Independence Day (September 16, 1810), which freed Mexico from Spanish rule.

Cinco de Mayo is about victory over the French on May 5, 1862, which was over half a century later! This time it was the French, headed by Emperor Napoleon III, who wanted to establish a French state in Mexico. The Mexican President Benito Juárez resisted immediately, blocking the advances in the fortified city of Puebla where French commanders had ordered an assault.

Led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, the Mexican forces defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla (Batalla de Puebla). Despite being ill-equipped and outnumbered, the Mexican troops held off the French advances, thanks to the positioning of hilltop forts Loreto and Guadalupe and a deep trench. The battle, where hundreds of French troops and less than 100 Mexicans were killed, lasted less than a day.

This battle was part of a French offensive to expand France’s empire in the New World. After a brutal civil war, Mexican leader Benito Juárez suspended foreign debt payments. In response, Spain, France, and England sent forces to Mexico, but it was only France that undertook significant military action. While the war with France was far from over following Mexico’s victory at the Battle of Puebla, it was seen as a symbol of the Mexican resistance against foreign domination. The city was later renamed Puebla de Zaragoza, a museum was devoted to the battle’s historical significance, and the battlefield is maintained as a park.

How is Cinco de Mayo Celebrated Today?

The first Cinco de Mayo holiday is believed to have been celebrated in California in 1863, the year following the Battle of Puebla. 

In the United States today, Cinco de Mayo is seen as a day to celebrate the culture and heritage of people with a Mexican background. There is an emphasis on Mexican services and goods, especially food, drinks, music, and dancing! 

Fun Fact: It is estimated that more than 80 million pounds of avocados are consumed annually during Cinco de Mayo celebrations!

Large Cinco de Mayo celebrations are primarily held in southwestern cities with large populations of Americans of Mexican origins, including Fiesta Broadway in Los Angeles. A number of cities, including Denver and Washington D.C., host chihuahua races!

A delicious Cinco De Mayo feast!

Cinco de Mayo Recipes

Below find a number of recipes that can be enjoyed on Cinco de Mayo. In addition, Mole Poblano, which originated in Puebla, is a culinary dish that is associated with Cinco de Mayo that combines chiles, fruits, nuts, and Mexican chocolate to create a sauce that is typically served over pork, chicken, or turkey.

Do you have a favorite Mexican-American recipe? Here are a few of our favorites:

Salsa Recipe
Guacamole Recipe
Easy Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas
Frijoles Mexican Beans
Mexican Chicken and Bean Soup 

If you enjoy learning about the cultures of the world, discover another Mexican holiday that coincides with All Souls’ Day. Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is celebrated on November 2.

About The Author

Tim Goodwin

Tim Goodwin, the associate editor for The Old Farmer's Almanac, has been reading North America's oldest continuously published periodical since he was a young child, growing up just a short drive from the OFA office. Read More from Tim Goodwin