13 Fun Cinco de Mayo Facts for Kids

Cinco de Mayo falls on May 5 every year. Get your kids excited to celebrate the day with these fun Cinco de Mayo facts.

We know your kids would love any day dedicated to tacos, burritos, and guac. (Who wouldn't?) But there's so much more to Cinco de Mayo than food. It's important to know why it's celebrated. From what Cinco de Mayo means to Mexicans to which foods are the most popular to eat in the state of Puebla on May 5, these Cinco de Mayo facts are the perfect way to introduce the holiday to kids.

1. Cinco de Mayo Isn’t Mexico’s Independence Day

Cinco de Mayo is often confused with Mexican Independence Day, but it actually commemorates a significant battle during the Franco-Mexican War that took place in a town called Puebla. The Mexican Army, who were considered the underdogs, ended up overtaking the French and came out victorious. Mexican Independence Day, on the other hand, actually occurred on September 16, 1810—about 50 years earlier.

2. Mexicans Don't Call It Cinco de Mayo

Although Cinco de Mayo translates to the Fifth of May, which is when the holiday is celebrated in Puebla, Mexico where it originated; that's not actually what folks call it there. Instead, the official name of the holiday is El Día de la Batalla de Puebla, which translates to "The Day of the Battle of Puebla" in English.

3. The Mexican Army Beat Crazy Odds

The Mexican Army was largely outnumbered and poorly supplied. In fact, they were known as a rag-tag army and only had outdated guns at their disposal. And yet, as few as 2,000 Mexican soldiers—some of whom hid behind tall cactus plants—defeated 6,000 French soldiers during the battle, which lasted from daybreak to early evening.

4. The General Was Honored in a Super Special Way

Ignacio Zaragoza was the Mexican general who led the army that defeated the French on May 5, 1862. He was born in what's now Goliad in southern Texas and was only 33 years old when he led his troops to victory. Puebla was renamed Puebla de Zaragoza in his honor.

5. Families in California Partied First

A few weeks after the Battle of Puebla, Americans and Latinos in California heard about the valiant efforts of Mexican soldiers through newspaper reports. Residents in the state were so excited, they celebrated with parades of people dressed in Civil War uniforms. And in Northern California, one town partied with drinks, food, and banquets—it was most likely the first Cinco de Mayo fiesta in the United States!

An image of a Cinco de Mayo parade.
Getty Images.

6. FDR Helped Commercialize Cinco de Mayo

Although it was celebrated in the United States just weeks after the Battle of Puebla, Cinco de Mayo wasn't officially recognized in the U.S. until 1933. That's when President Franklin D. Roosevelt helped create the "Good Neighbor Policy" which aimed to establish positive exchanges and relationships with our Latin American neighbors.

7. Mexico Celebrates the Military on May 5

While Cinco de Mayo is celebrated with tons of food, drinks, and partying in the United States, Mexicans take a slightly different approach. The holiday is mostly celebrated in the state of Puebla and in addition to food and drinks, locals put on a military parade with people dressed as French and Mexican soldiers, cheer on brightly colored floats, and reenact the battle on its original site.

8. It's All About the Mole Sauce

Sure, tacos are a staple at any Cinco de Mayo party in the U.S., but in Mexico, there's one meal that stands above the rest. The holiday's most beloved dish is mole poblano, a sauce made with dozens of ingredients including chili peppers and chocolate served over chicken. To celebrate to the fullest, Puebla hosts the International Mole Festival—a two-day festival where celebrity chefs explain how to create the ultimate mole.

9. Kids Get May 5 Off from School—In Mexico, That Is

Cinco de Mayo is not a federal holiday in Mexico, but luckily for children, schools are closed for the day! In 2005, The United States Congress made Cinco de Mayo an official U.S. holiday; however, it is not a federal holiday, and so banks, schools, and businesses stay open for the day.

10. The United States Took Everything Up a Notch

While Cinco de Mayo is largely a regional holiday in Mexico—mostly celebrated in Puebla—the United States holds coast-to-coast celebrations, especially in cities that have a large population of Mexican Americans like Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Antonio. In fact, Denver's "Cinco de Mayo Festival" is believed to be one of the largest Cinco de Mayo celebrations anywhere, with an estimated 400,000 people attending over two days to participate in parades, carnival rides, and a taco eating contest.

11. Americans Eat Millions of Avocados on May 5

Since Americans eat plenty of guacamole on Cinco de Mayo, avocado sales boom every year. According to the California Avocado Commission, we eat upward of 80 million pounds of avocados on Cinco de Mayo in the United States alone!

12. Most Festive "Mexican" Foods Enjoyed in the U.S. Aren't Actually Mexican

Did you know that there are more than 48,000 Mexican restaurants in the United States? Cinco de Mayo is a perfect day for these eateries to celebrate Mexican food, but what many Americans think of as Mexican cuisine (e.g., ground beef tacos, nachos, burritos, etc.,) is actually "Tex-Mex," which is a uniquely American culinary blend of popularized Texas foods inspired by the Tejanos people.

13. You Might Hear a Mariachi Band

A mariachi band is a traditional Mexican folk music ensemble that typically includes a line-up of specific instruments: the violin, a guitar, a trumpet, a 15th-century Spanish stringed instrument called a vihuela, and a base guitar called a guitarrón. Mariachi bands originate from the 18th century and are steeped in revolutionary history, making them a perfect musical accompaniment to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

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