What is the real meaning behind Cinco de Mayo?

The band Mariachi Real de Mexico waits to perform on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange ahead of the Cinco de Mayo holiday before the closing bell on May 3, 2013. (Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — It’s Cinco de Mayo. The guacamole is prepped, the beers are cold and it’s time to celebrate … what exactly?

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is a minor holiday. But in the United States, it’s an excuse to party.

A quick WTOP Facebook survey over the weekend asked social media users how many people know the real meaning behind the holiday.

Only one person got the answer right, while some referenced Independence Day, beer and St. Patrick’s Day:

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the 1862 Battle of Puebla in which Mexican forces drove back the French army, who was there to collect an unsettled debt.

At the time, Mexico was essentially bankrupt, thanks to a bloody and costly civil war known as the Reform War. When President Benito Juarez took office in 1861, he inherited a large debt from his predecessor but had no way to pay it.

Hoping to buy some time, he suspended repayment to France, Spain and England for two years.

Juarez came to an agreement with Spain and England, but France, under the rule of the infamous Louis-Napol


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