How Cinco de Mayo Works

Women perform a traditional dance during Cinco de Mayo. Junko Richie/EyeEm/Getty Images

Lots of us have heard of the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo, but not everyone knows what it celebrates. It is not, as some believe, Mexico's Independence Day. The festivities that occur on the fifth day of May commemorate a battle that was fought almost 50 years after Mexico declared its independence from Spain.

Throughout Mexico, as well as in many cities across the United States and any other country where there are people of Mexican descent, the fifth of May means partying in traditional Mexican style; but its significance goes beyond mariachi bands and piƱatas. In this article, you will learn about the roots of Cinco de Mayo and how this holiday is celebrated in North America.

Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico's independence, but it is not Independence Day. Mexico asserted its independence from Spain on September 16, 1810. The festivities on May 5 are about another battle for independence -- a battle fought against the French in 1862.