Cinco de Mayo is often referred to as "the Mexican St. Patrick's Day," but what is meant by that comparison and what do the two holidays possibly have in common? Whether you're Irish, Mexican, both, or neither, there are a few interesting facts you might be surprised to hear that give these two holidays more than just a thing or two in common.
No, the majority of Mexican people do not wear a sombrero and poncho. And most Irish people do not dress like leprechauns, either. Not even on Cinco de Mayo or St. Patrick's Day. These stereotypical costumes are actually a form of cultural appropriation.
Whether it be a few rounds of margaritas or several pints of Guinness, fun-loving people can't seem to resist using Cinco de Mayo and St. Patrick's Day as an excuse to drink copious amounts of imported alcohol from those regions. Nevermind that people who are actually from Mexico or Ireland don’t really celebrate these holidays.
3. The vast majority of those who celebrate aren't entirely sure what they're celebrating.
Don't be one of those people who confuse St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo as independence day celebrations. Here's the real deal:
Cinco de Mayo is the remembrance of a military battle that happened on May 5, 1862 in Puebla, Mexico. It all started when Mexican President Benito Juárez stopped making interest payments to Mexico's creditors, including to the French, who decided to come collect in person. Despite being outnumbered, Mexican soldiers fought valiantly and declared an unlikely victory over the invading French army. While this wasn't the end of Mexico's troubles with the French, the battle was hailed as a great triumph.
Mexico's actual Independence Day is September 16.
St. Patrick's Day, while now a secular holiday associated with leprechauns, shamrocks, and all things Irish, was once simply a Catholic saint’s day for a man who was born in Britain under the name Maewyn Succat. Taken to Ireland as a slave at age 16, Maewyn escaped years later, changed his name to the Christian name Patricius (or Patrick, as we know it), and became a priest before eventually ascending to the position of bishop. As a bishop, Patrick returned to Ireland, converting great numbers of Pagans to Christianity. It's said that he used the three-leaved shamrock to illustrate the holy trinity to converts, which is why clover became associated with the holiday. Over the years, Irish-Americans used the holy day as an opportunity to celebrate their heritage, with the first documented St. Patrick's Day parade occurring in Boston in 1737. Before long, people of Irish ancestry around the world, and then even those who weren't Irish, wanted to join in on the fun.
As far as Ireland's Independence Day, that's a bit complicated and controversial, but the reality is that they don't officially have one.
4. The holiday is more widely celebrated in countries outside the country it originated in.
The world's largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration happens every March 17—not in Ireland, but in New York City. More than two million people turn out for the parade featuring between 150,000 and 250,000 participants who dance their way up Fifth Avenue. In Washington, D.C., the water in the fountain on the North Lawn of the White House is tinted green in observance of the day, as is the Chicago River in Chicago. Other cities around the world hosting big St. Patrick's Day events include Montserrat, Sydney, London, and Buenos Aires. As a result of the big parades in the U.S., Ireland began celebrating the holiday in much grander fashion with Dublin now hosting an annual four-day event.
As for Cinco de Mayo, word of what happened in 1862 spread to Mexican-Americans entrenched in civil war up North. The victory of the Poblanos against the French served as great inspiration to stay strong in their own fight. Today, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in cities across the U.S. with festivals, parades, and partying by Americans of all backgrounds, while in Mexico the celebration hasn't really spread beyond the borders of the state of Puebla, where the main event is an annual reenactment of the famous battle.