By Kelli Harris

Cinco de Mayo is a time when Americans celebrate Mexican culture, mostly through food and drink, either at home or at their favorite local Mexican cantina.

But the real history goes something like this:

Cinco de Mayo, which translates to the 5th of May, is always celebrated on that day and is a celebration of Mexican heritage. It commemorates the date of the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It is also known as Battle of Puebla Day. Following the Mexican Civil War, an economically struggling Mexico did not have sufficient funds to make payments on Mexican debts to foreign governments. The country was then invaded by the United Kingdom, Spain, and France, who sought repayment of the outstanding debts. The United Kingdom and Spain signed treaties with Mexico and returned home. The French, however, did not withdraw. They engaged Mexican troops in a battle near the city of Puebla. The French were defeated and withdrew from the area. The victory was a large morale boost for Mexico which had fewer soldiers and military resources than France.

The U.S. celebration of the holiday began in California in 1863 as an expression of solidarity with Mexico against the French. By the 1930s, the holiday spread and was considered an opportunity to celebrate Mexican identity, promote cultural awareness, and build community.

Some fun facts about Cinco de Mayo:

  • Although tacos are consumed the most on this holiday, mole poblano is the official dish of Cinco de Mayo.
  • According to the California Avocado commission, around 87 million pounds of avocadoes are eaten on Cinco de Mayo in the United States.
  • The holiday is celebrated in other countries besides Mexico and the United States. For example, Vancouver, Canada, hosts a “skydiving boogie” with aerial acrobatics. The Cayman Islands puts on an air guitar competition!
  • To celebrate in Mexico, people dress up either as French and Mexican soldiers or in colorful outfits to participate in large parades.

Some ways you can celebrate in your classroom:

  • Have children create sombreros or flower bands to wear.
  • Make some Mexican food specialties for snack time in which children can help – guacamole, salsa, homemade tortilla chips, etc. This is also a great opportunity to incorporate some math skills and talk into the activity (measuring, looking at print to follow a recipe, etc.).
  • Add a taco bar for lunch.
  • Read a story about the Mexican flag and decorate your room in red, green, and white.
  • Teach children Spanish words (encouraging children to use language and adding new vocabulary).
  • Make maracas out of recycled materials and sing and dance to Mexican music.
  • Help the children create a classroom pinata (starting several days before the holiday), fill with treats, and let them use a plastic bat to crack it open.


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