What is Cinco de Mayo and why is it celebrated? –NBC Chicago

Sunday marks the 162nd anniversary of Cinco de Mayo. Although a relatively minor holiday in Mexico, the annual celebration in the United States is an excuse to enjoy margaritas, cervezas (beer), guacamole and tacos.

But what exactly does Cinco de Mayo celebrate? Read more about its rich history and modern traditions below.

Is Cinco de Mayo the same as Mexican Independence Day?

Many people tend to confuse Cinco de Mayo with “Día de la Independencia,” or Mexico’s Independence Day. That holiday, also known as ‘El Grito de la Independencia’, is actually celebrated on September 16, when Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain.

Why is Cinco de Mayo celebrated?

Artists take part in the reenactment of the Battle of Puebla – Mexico’s victory over France in 1862 – during the anniversary celebration in the Penon de los Banos neighborhood of Mexico City, on May 5, 2016. (Photo: Getty Images)

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is not a celebration, but a day of remembrance, commemorating Mexico’s victory over the French during the Battle of Puebla in 1862. An outnumbered Mexican army – led by Ignacio Zaragoza, a 33-year-old Texan from Goliad – defeated the invading French forces in the small town of Puebla de Los Angeles during the French-Mexico War.

The withdrawal of French troops marked a great victory for the Mexican people and symbolized the country’s ability to defend its sovereignty against a powerful foreign nation.

What is the history behind Cinco de Mayo?

Jose Gregorio Perez attends the Cinco de Mayo festivities on May 5, 2010 at the El Pueblo de Los Angeles historic site on Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles, California. (Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The first American Cinco de Mayo celebrations date back to the 1860s, when Mexicans living in California commemorated the victory over France in Puebla. At the time, the United States was involved in a civil war. News of the Mexican underdog army beating back Napoleon III’s forces gave new strength to the California Latinos, who tried to stop the advance of the Confederate army.

“For Mexicans in the US, the Civil War and the French invasion of Mexico were like one war with two fronts. They were concerned that France, which sided with the Confederacy, was on America’s doorstep,” said David Hayes-Bautista, a professor of medicine. and director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the University of California Los Angeles, told NBC News.

According to Hayes-Bautista, the tradition of celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Los Angeles has continued without interruption since 1862, although the original reason and history have been lost.

Why did Cinco de Mayo become popular in the US?

4. Popularity of Cinco de Mayo in America
If there’s one drink you associate with Cinco de Mayo, it’s probably a margarita. (Photo: Getty Images)

About a century later, Chicano activists rediscovered the holiday and embraced it as a symbol of ethnic pride. But the festive Cinco de Mayo that Americans celebrate today only became popular when American beer companies began targeting the Hispanic population in the 1970s and 1980s, Jose Alamillo, a California professor of Chicano studies, told Time.com.

Today, Cinco de Mayo in the US is primarily a celebration of Mexican-American culture, with the largest event in Los Angeles.

What are some authentic Cinco de Mayo recipes?

5. What You Can Really Eat on Cinco de Mayo
Mole Poblano at Taqueria El Mexicano. (Photo: Getty Images)

If you want to do Cinco de Mayo right, put down the taco, poke favor. Contrary to popular belief, you won’t find ground beef tacos, nachos, and frozen margaritas in Mexico on Cinco de Mayo. The traditional dish eaten in the city of Puebla during their big holiday is mole poblano, according to the Smithsonian.

Invented in the late 17th century, mole is a thick sauce made with chocolate, chili peppers, nuts and other spices. Traditionally, the sauce covers juicy chicken or turkey.

Although recipes for mole in Mexico vary from family to family and by state, they all have one thing in common: mole represents the heart of Mexican culture because it is served at the most special occasions, such as weddings, baby showers and holidays.

To make this classic Mexican sauce, try this TODAY recipe from Lourdes Juarez.