cinco de mayo–a celebration of mexican culture

Today, Puebla is a vibrant city filled with life and colour. But it wasn’t always that way. The painting below depicts The Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, when the Mexican army (under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza) beat the army of the French Empire to temporarily break the hold of the French on the Mexican people. Unfortunately the Mexican army lost a second battle in 1863, but the 5th of May (Cinco de Mayo) is still considered as a day of celebration in Mexico on a more ceremonious level, and throughout the United States, where those of Mexican descent celebrate the music, food, and culture of their homeland.

Mexico has endured a tumultuous past, having fought off both the French and the Spanish armies. But Mexican culture has endured throughout the ages, and no matter where you venture across this magnificent land, you will see children dancing in the streets, folk dancing at festivals, mariachi bands singing in the streets, in restaurants and at cultural events, and an overall general pride of being Mexican.

Mexico is bordered by the United States to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the west and southwest, the Gulf of Mexico to the east, and Guatemala and Belize of Central America in the southeast of the country. With an area of 1.973 million square kilometres, Mexico is only about one fifth the size of Canada, the 14th largest country in the world, and the 7th most popular tourist destination in the world according to the popular site for retired travellers and expats, International Living.

Having been to Mexico more than a dozen times over the years, I thought I’d seen a large part of the country. It wasn’t until I pulled out a map and marked the places I’d been in yellow that I realized there is still much of this diverse country for me to see. I’ve seen the golden sand beaches of Cabo San Lucas, Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco on the Pacific Coast, and the white sand beaches of Yucatan, Tulum, Cancun and Cozumel, on the Gulf of Mexico, border towns of Ensenada, Juarez and Tijuana, the political centre of Mexico City, the cultural hotspot of Guadalajara/Tlaquepaque, and smaller centres of Tequila, Merida, Oaxaca and Puebla. But as you can see by the small amount of yellow on that map, I’ve got a lot more exploring to do! I’ve written this post to share a few glimpses of Mexican culture I’ve experienced off the beaten path of traditional tourism. Enjoy!

The ladies dancing in the upper photo entertained us during a cultural night in Merida. The photo immediately above shows the Day of the Dead sculptures and art that are a very big part of Mexican culture in celebration of “Dia de los Muertos.” You’ll find many shops throughout Mexico devoted to this theme. Believe it or not, it is a happy holiday!
You’ll find mariachi bands playing traditional music everywhere in Mexico.
Tequila is a big part of Mexican culture. The favourite distilled beverage of Mexico is made from the blue agave plant, shown above on an agave farm near the town of Tequila in Western Mexico.
Tequila, the agave plant and music are often represented in contemporary Mexican art. This striking image was on display at the Tequila Museum in Guadalajara when I visited.
These girls were dancing in the streets of Oaxaca
in a beautiful artsy part of town.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse at Mexican culture through its dance, music and art. Food plays a huge part in Mexican culture as well, and you’ll find a taste of the regional cuisine in each of the posts I’ve highlighted throughout this post. I hope you’ll check them out. 😊

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I researched and wrote Volume I of Chocolatour that won a Readers' favourite Award in 2014. Always enjoy experiencing new destinations and flavours.

14 Responses

  1. Cinco de Mayo is not an official Mexican holiday. It’s actually a celebration of the 1862 Battle of Puebla, in which the Mexican army defeated the invading French forces. The date of the battle was May 5, but it has since been moved to May 6 to create a three-day weekend in Mexico. Cinco de Mayo is often mistaken for Mexico’s Independence Day, which is celebrated on September 16.

  2. Mexico is now my third home. The Spanish influence is the same as that in the Philippines, my first. We were under their control at the same time in our histories. Exuberance in music and dance, Spanish dishes, and pride in our independence. Will explore it more, too.

    • Very cool, Carol! I know that Portuguese is spoken in the Philippines, so I didn’t realize that there was a strong Spanish influence as well. Fascinating! Thx for stopping by.

  3. Thank you for clearing up the facts behind the significance of May 5th in Mexico’s history. Too many people believe it to be an Independence Day celebration. We loved the colorful photos you’ve included with this article.

    • Thx so much, Jeff. Yes, I’ve uncovered a really interesting backstory to the formation, fall and restoration of the Mexican Republic. (I’ve added some of that info in the reply I’m preparing to Margaret.) Mexico certainly has an interesting history!
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…it’s all about MargaretMy Profile

  4. Happy Cinco de Mayo, I wonder what they celebrate for the Spanish independence or is the French war more significant. I’m dying to explore more of Mexico to include Merida, Puebla, Oaxaca and San Miguel de Allende, so much rich history and culture.

  5. Margaret Anne Fehr says:

    Hi Doreen,
    Thanks for the colourful history lesson during your exuberant speech yesterday! I had no idea that Cinco de Mayo was a celebration against French invaders and now wondering how that came to be. I’ve always associated Mexico with being exclusively influenced by the Spanish but this reveals another thread to the country’s history. Wondering if the French have left any cultural influences in Mexico. Do you have any insights on this?

    • Hi Margaret. Leave it to a fellow journalist to open up this can of worms! (But thx for doing so.) Yes, Mexico has a very complicated past. We learned in this post ( that Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes–who had initially landed on the Yucatan Peninsula in 1519–invaded Mexico City and destroyed the Aztec civilization in 1521. He became the first Governor of New Spain that same year. Spain maintained rule of Mexico (on and off) as part of the Spanish Empire until 1821. The first Federal Republic of Mexico had been established in 1810, but was replaced by the Spanish Constitution of 1812. The French got involved via Napoleon in 1808 when France invaded Spain (who knew!) Hugely complicated story as you can see. The second French Intervention in Mexico lasted from December, 1861 to June, 1867, after which the second Federal Republic of Mexico was restored. Oh, and did I mention the Mexico-US War that lasted from 1846-1848? I don’t have time to truly delve into all the details of all the battles. But it goes without saying that this all explains why the Mexican people are so proud of their culture and independence today!

      • Margaret Anne Fehr says:

        Thanks for doing a deep dive on this Doreen! I had no idea and I myself have never picked up on the French influence in my Mexico travels. Perhaps they weren’t there long enough to truly make a long-lasting impact. Fascinating stuff!

  6. Dave Lobban says:

    Good Morning Doreen,
    Your excellent speech yesterday had me thinking about one of your comments.
    You said that Mexicans are very nationalistic and supportive of Mexico. Looking back at the history and the conquest of the Aztecs and Inca by the Spaniards. The imposition of the Catholic religion and all the other events of the past, is there no resurgence of the indigenous peoples for recognition?
    We have seen this happen in Canada and I’m curious to know if the same sort of issues are part of the Mexican political landscape.
    Take care,

    • Hi Dave and thanks very much for your comment. Happy to have you introduce an important part of the discussion. Indeed, there has been a movement to strengthen the rights and voices of the Mayan people throughout Mexico. Those of Mayan descent are traditionally soft spoken people who work on the farms and in creative activities such as arts and crafts. They have been taken advantage of over the years by some employers and they are starting to speak up for their rights. The Mayans continue to contribute to contemporary Mexican culture and have added to the mystique of Mexican heritage. They played and continue to play a very important role in the world of Mexican cacao. This topic will be included in my upcoming book, so stay tuned for more about the Mayan connection to xocolatl. You’ll find a post about the Aztec connection to cacao here: And read about the remnants of Aztec culture found in Mexico City here: Thx again for stopping by.

  7. Mexico is a destination that can appeal to any kind of cultural traveller. Whether you’re into music, art, dance, history, heritage or food, you will leave Mexico with a new sense of adventure in your spirit. I used the foundation of this post for a speech I presented to my Toastmasters club in honour of Cinco de Mayo, May 5, 2021.
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…it’s all about MargaretMy Profile

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