Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo (translated “May 5th”) is a Mexican holiday that seems to increase in popularity each year in the United States. In fact, today, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated even more enthusiastically throughout the United States than it is throughout Mexico. It has become a celebration of independence, liberty and freedom – ideas which unite the people of both countries. But do you know about the actual event that Cinco de Mayo commemorates?
You, like many others, might think that Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday celebrating the Country’s independence from Spain. But it isn’t. Mexico declared its independence from Spain in September of 1810. Cinco de Mayo actually celebrates a different victory of independence, a very proud moment in Mexican history that happened more than 50 years later … on May 5, 1862.
On that day, in the state of Puebla, about 100 miles east of Mexico City, heavily outnumbered Mexican soldiers preserved the democratically elected government of President Benito Juarez against an invading French army. The French army, sent by Napoleon III, Emperor of the Second French Empire, had arrived in Mexico under the premise of collecting debt from the Mexican government’s depleted treasuries. However, Napoleon III’s real intention was to overthrow the elected government and install a monarchy favorable to France. But independence prevailed when the Mexican army soundly defeated the much larger and much more experienced French army. The victory was a great source of national pride for the fledgling democracy of Mexico that is celebrated each year … on Cinco de Mayo
El Grito de Independencia – Independence Day
Every 16th of September, Mexicans celebrate Mexico’s independence from Spanish rule. The date actually marks the start of the Independence War, which lasted for 10 y’ears. In the early hours of September 16, 1810, Father Hidalgo and a group of conspirators rang the bell of his small church and called everyone to fight for liberty. Today, the story is re-enacted in every zocalo, or plaza, in Mexico. Flags wave from every structure. Lighted decorations are put up, and people of all ages join in Mexico’s biggest fiesta.
Los Dias de Los Muertos
Los Dias de los Muertos means Day of the Dead, but it is really a Mexican celebration of both life and death. Held on November 1st and 2nd, celebrants honor the spirit of family ancestors. Spirits of children are thought to return on the 1st and adults on the 2nd. Altars are built, and then covered with food and decorations. Cemeteries are decorated with fresh flowers. Paper mache sculptures depict the dead in an everyday context, such as skeletons, and most are comical in nature. Through music and feasting, everyone embraces the totality of both life and death. It is a time of celebration.
Las Posadas begins on the 16th of December and continues for the next nine nights. Through candlelight processions and festive parties, participants remember the long journey undertaken by Joseph and Mary, and their search for lodging in Bethlehem. In fact, “posada” means “shelter”. A woman and man portraying Mary and Joseph lead the procession, followed by children in the roles of angels, The Three Kings, and shepherds. Others carry candles, paper lanterns and banners as they proceed from house to house in search of a place to stay. At each residence along the procession route they are refused shelter, until at last, they are welcomed in at the last home. Then, a grand party with food for all is held.