It’s a common misconception that Cinco de Mayo is an important holiday in Mexico. While the Battle of Puebla, which took place on May 5, 1862, was certainly a significant moment in Mexican history, Cinco de Mayo is primarily celebrated only in Puebla. The holiday commemorates a battle during the Second French Intervention in Mexico, during which a ragtag Mexican army was able to defeat the much larger and well-equipped French army. Although the French subsequently overran the Mexicans, the victory at Puebla provided a much-needed morale boost to the Mexican troops.

Each year, the Mexican victory is celebrated in the Mexican state of Puebla on the 5th of May with a huge military parade celebrating the bravery of the Mexican troops who fought in the battle. Various military schools participate in the parade as well as musicians, indigenous peoples and charros on their dancing horses. The parade also includes various floats depicting not only the battle, but also honoring the nearby Pueblos Mágicos (magical towns), as well as the Popocatepetl volcano and other important aspects of Puebla life. The city of Puebla also throws a month-long fair with artists, amusement rides, performances, exhibitions, and plenty of food and beverages.

Despite the huge celebrations in Puebla, Cinco de Mayo is not really celebrated in other parts of Mexico. However, much as the victory at the Battle of Puebla was a source of morale for the Mexican troops, Cinco de Mayo has become synonymous with Mexican pride for Mexican immigrants abroad, especially in the United States. Because of the holiday’s popularity in the United States, many tourists to Mexico expect to find huge fiestas and celebrations if they happen to be visiting in early May. As a result, some businesses in tourist areas, such as Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit, are now staging Cinco de Mayo celebrations—while these are certainly festive and fun, don’t expect them to be authentic!