By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Originally published May 5, 2017
In case you don’t know, Cinco de Mayo means the Fifth of May in Spanish.
So sit down with a margarita, put on some mariachi music and read about this almost more American than Mexican holiday. (May 5 is often confused with the Mexican day of independence. The nation celebrates its Independence Day on September 16. On this date in 1810, Mexico won her independence from Spain.)
Cinco de Mayo does commemorate an historic event in the city of Puebla de Los Angeles in Mexico. President Benito Juarez sent a rag tag army of volunteers to meet the French army there. General Zaragoza led this army against the much-better supplied French army. The 4,000 man Mexican army defeated the 8,000 man French army on May 5, 1862. The French army was considered the best in the world at that time and defeating the French was a huge morale booster, and gave the beleaguered country a sense of unity and patriotism. The Mexicans lost 100 men in the battle, the French 500.
France returned next year with a much bigger army (30,000 soldiers) and a chip on its shoulder. This time France defeated Mexico, and ruled the country for three years. How did this all come about? When Juarez became president in 1861, Mexico was broke. They were still recovering from the Mexican-American war in the 1840s, when a defeated Mexico allowed the United States to annex Texas. The country had borrowed money from Spain, Britain and France to keep the country going, and was recovering from the defeat. It couldn’t afford to pay back the loans.
Spain and Britain negotiated with Mexico and settled the matter. France was in no mood to settle; they wanted more territory and decided to invade Mexico at the port city of Veracruz. France only ruled Mexico for three years, installing Maximillian I as king. The United States was able to help Mexico after the Civil War ended. With additional funds and arms, plus with the pressure on France from Prussia, France withdrew to protect closer borders. In June, 1867, President Benito Juarez became president again, and started pulling Mexico back together.
Interesting Facts about Cinco de Mayo:
- Napoleon III, the emperor of France, had the idea to take over Mexico, and then send arms and men to help the Confederate Army. Not that he was pro-Southern, he just wanted the nation to continue to be divided and weak. Since this invasion, no foreign country has ever invaded any nation in the Americas.
- Some historians believe that if it were not for the Mexican victory during the Battle of Puebla, the Confederates would have won the Civil War and changed the fate of the United States forever.
- Cinco de Mayo is not a federal holiday in Mexico, and is not really celebrated outside of Puebla and a few other cities. In the United States, however, it is a huge holiday.
In and around Puebla, “Cinco de Mayo” is known as El Día de la Batalla de Puebla (the Day of Puebla Battle). And they celebrate with re-enactments and parades more than with tequila, margaritas and such.
- May 5th was made more popular under Franklin Roosevelt, who established the “Good Neighbors policy” in the 1930s.
- Americans eat nearly 81 million pounds of avocadoes on Cinco de Mayo every year, according to the California Avocado Commission.
- Many cities in the United States celebrate Cinco de Mayo with weekend-long festivals, including Denver, Chicago, Portland and San Diego.
- Los Angeles wins with the largest party (in the world!). It is called Fiesta Broadway. Many other countries enjoy this celebration as well. Even Vancouver, Canada has a big celebration, with a skydiving mariachi band!
- Chandler, Arizona has a Chihuahua race on May 5!
- Because we like to celebrate and drink tequila, the United States drinks more of this potent liquor than Mexico, where most tequila is made!
- Enchiladas and tamales make up more the traditional dishes and as they take a bit of time to create and cook, it becomes a time for family togetherness.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Bastille Day is July 14 this year and every year in France. It is the French National Day which celebrates the unity of the french people and commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789. So what exactly is a Bastille, you want to know?
The Bastille was a fortress in Paris, known formally as the Bastille Saint-Antoine, for the district that it was in. For most of its history was used as a state prison by the kings of France. The fortress was originally built to defend the eastern gate of the city of Paris from the English threat in the Hundred Years’ War, in the 1300s. It was a strong fortress with eight towers which protected that highly strategic entrance at the eastern edge of Paris. It was made into a state prison in 1417, used by both the invading English and the French. As Paris grew and spread beyond the gates, the Bastille became surrounded by houses, and was a less of a fortress and more of a prison. King Louis XIV used the Bastille to lock away any of the nobility who opposed him or angered him. Under kings Louis XV and XVI, the fortress was used to detain prisoners from all classes and as a police station, prison and arsenal.
On July 14th, 1789the Bastille was stormed by a crowd filled with revolutionary zeal, some intent on freeing the prisoners, others who wanted the valuable gunpowder held within the fortress. The seven remaining prisoners were found and released. This revolt was the start of the French Revolution. The Bastille became an important symbol for the French Republican movement, and was later demolished and replaced by the Place de la Bastille.
But how do they celebrate Bastille Day?
- Every July 14, a large military parade takes place along the Champs Elysées, the famous French avenue that runs from the Arc de Triomphe. It is the biggest parade that takes place in all of Europe. During the 2015 parade, three different anti-terror squads marched in the parade to honor the 10,000 troops that helped secure safety in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
- Another part of the celebrations are the Fireman’s Balls. In this tradition, which started in 1937, fire stations open their doors to host fundraising dance parties. The money collected goes to help funding of the fire stations all over France.
- And another thing you must be aware of—you never wish a Frenchman (or woman) Happy Bastille Day. In France, July 14th is always la fête du 14-juillet (the July 14th holiday) or more officially, la fête nationale (The National Holiday). And everyone sings La Marseillaise, which is the French national anthem. “Allons enfants de la patrie…”
- Bastille Day isn’t a celebration only in France; it is celebrated all over the world. Two of the largest outside France are in the United States: in New Orleans, where Francophiles celebrate the holiday for a week long, and in New York City, where a block party takes place on 60th street.