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Cinco de Mayo Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jennifer Lowery

Jennifer has taught elementary levels K-3 and has master's degrees in elementary education and curriculum/instruction and educational leadership.

Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday that has a rich history. In this lesson, learn why this holiday is recognized and how people throughout the world celebrate the fifth of May.

What Is Cinco de Mayo?

Are you busy on May 5? If not, you should join the millions of Mexicans and Americans celebrating the holiday of Cinco de Mayo! The name of the holiday is Spanish, and it literally means 'fifth of May.' This is a Mexican holiday full of history and tradition, and many people join in on the festivities each year.

History of the Holiday

Many people are confused by the history behind Cinco de Mayo. It's often believed to be a celebration of Mexican Independence Day, just like Americans celebrate U.S. independence on July 4. However, this is not correct. The holiday actually observes the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, which was a significant battle for the country. (That's why Cinco de Mayo is also called the Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla.)

The battle took place on May 5, 1862, just outside of the Mexican city of Puebla. Leading up to the battle, Mexico had been fighting against European invasion--Britain, Spain and France had been working together to invade Mexico. However, Britain and Spain eventually backed out, leaving France to invade Mexico on its own. France intended to overthrow the Mexican government and implement a monarchy, which is when a king controls the land.

A painting depicting the Battle of Puebla
Painting of Mexican battle

The Mexican forces fought hard against the invasion, and there were many battles. The French won many of these clashes both before and after the Battle of Puebla, and France was eventually successful in taking over Mexico.

So what made the Battle of Puebla so important? When the Mexican forces won this battle, they slowed the French army drastically. It was a surprising turnout, since the French had been expected to see a speedy victory. Also, the Mexican army experienced a boost in confidence, and the battle served as a source of inspiration for soldiers in the years to come as they fought the French invasion, which eventually ended in 1867.

Where Is Cinco de Mayo Celebrated?

While Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday and schools across Mexico close on this day, it's not actually considered an official national holiday. In fact, much of Mexico doesn't celebrate the holiday. But in the town of Puebla, May 5 is an official holiday, and it's a very special occasion. The massive celebration involves parades, traditional music and dancing, plenty of food and reenactments (when people act out the battle).

The holiday is actually more commonly celebrated in the United States. Many Mexican immigrants (people who moves to a new country) as well as other Americans celebrate the holiday with parties. In areas where there are large populations of Mexicans, such as Los Angeles and Chicago, there may be parades, festivals and other major celebrations.

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