(ABC4) – Cinco de Mayo or the fifth of May is a Mexican holiday to celebrate the Mexican army’s victory over France on May 5, 1862.

The Battle of Puebla or the France-Mexican War started in 1861. Mexico was in financial ruin at the time and a new president, Benito Juarez, had just been elected. The new president was forced to default on debt payments to European governments.

In response to this, France, Britain, and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz, Mexico, demanding Mexico pay its debt. Britain and Spain managed to make a peaceful negotiation with Mexico and withdrew.

France, however, decided to take Mexico by force, sending in troops to take over the government. 6,000 French troops were sent out to attack the small town of Puebla de Los Angeles. President Juarez responded by sending just 2,000 poorly supplied men to fight back.

The battle lasted barely a day when the French finally retreated after losing nearly 500 soldiers. Mexico, however, lost fewer than 100 men.

May 5 then became an annual celebration of Mexico’s victory. Large festivals are held each year with parades, mariachi music, dancing, and traditional foods.

Many people mistakenly believe that Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of Mexican Independence. Independence Day in Mexico is celebrated on September 16. Mexico gained independence nearly 50 years before The Battle of Puebla.

Cinco De Mayo has evolved over the decades to be a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage.