Always honored at the Fifth of Maynote , Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican culture in honor of a minor-but-significant battle victory of Mexico over an invading European force - okay, France - back in 1862, when the struggling Mexican nation was attempting to retain its republic status. When the French invaders stormed the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe they were expecting a quick victory on account of superior numbers and weaponry. A nasty rainstorm changed all that, and they quickly discovered that being bogged down in the mud is a terrible place to be when an angry, desperate peasant is charging at you with his machete. When the French soldiers routed, morale in the Mexican army skyrocketed.
Ironically, Cinco de Mayo isn't a major celebration in Mexico itself: the holiday became much more important in the United States among Mexican-Americans as a point of cultural pride (very similar to St. Patrick's Day for the Irish). It's also mistaken by a lot of non-Mexicans - okay, Caucasian Americans - as Mexico's Independence Day (the real Mexican 4th of July is September 16th). There's an Urban Legend that Cinco de Mayo really took off as a celebration when Chicano student groups at various California schools during The '60s wanted to have a national pride day but couldn't use September 16th because it was at the start of school years, whereas May 5th came at the end of school years and easier to get people to join in.
And much like St. Patrick's Day, it's become accepted as a day for non-members of the ethnic group to indulge in the food (and beer!) of that ethnic group.
Tropes associated with this holiday:
- Badass Bookworm: General Ignacio Zaragoza, who started out in life as a seminary student in the 1840s, but joined the forces in opposition to dictator Santa Anna in the 1850s and proved his worth leading a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits to glory in battle. By 1862 he was serving as the Secretary of War in government, but resigned the post to lead the troops at the Battle of Puebla. Sadly, he died from typhoid soon after, unable to prevent the invading French from occupying Mexico one year later.
- Badass Boast: "The national arms have been covered with glory." - Zaragoza sending word of victory to President Juarez.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: what Napoleon III was hoping for in trying to conquer Mexico. Zaragoza's victory proved that wrong. Napoleon III sent in more troops over the following year, while the Mexicans were able to organize an effective resistance during that year to prevent complete occupation. By 1866, with the United States finishing its war and massing on the border to enforce Mexico's independence, Napoleon was forced to pull his troops out.
- Hold the Line: Some commentators have suggested that the Mexican victory at Puebla might have actually helped save the Union by preventing the French from linking up with the Confederates and providing them a steady stream of supplies. Despite the Union's advantage in industry and firepower over the Confederates, Union resolve was wavering at the time because of the Confederates' having the upper hand. Had the Confederates gotten more arms and support from the French, it's entirely possible the Union's resolve would have broken completely. The Mexican victory at Puebla halted the French advance for a full year, giving the Union time to turn the tables on the Confederates.
- Misaimed Fandom: in a way. Most of Mexico itself doesn't celebrate Cinco de Mayo as a major holiday - outside of the Puebla region where the battle took place - but it's become a huge deal in the United States, especially advertised by beer companies and Mexican eateries.
- Other nations throughout the Caribbean celebrate it as well. It's celebrated in Australia with an annual festival, while in Japan the day is for celebrating American culture in general.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: the United States, with Mexico. While the U.S. couldn't do much while embroiled in their own war, the Union government kept pressure on France to prevent a larger invasion, and when the Civil War ended by mid-1865 it immediately sent troops to the Texas/Mexican border and increased armaments and supplies to the Mexican government-in-exile. Realizing they were about to face the largest organized - and battle-tested - standing army in the world at 500,000 U.S. troops (led by Philip Sheridan of all generals!) if they didn't leave per the Monroe Doctrine, the French occupiers quit their attempt at empire, allowing Mexico to rebuild its republic.