The city of Puebla, where a battle took place in 1862 that saw 4,000 Mexican soldiers toppling an army of 8,000 French and renegade Mexican soldiers, remains the heart of the Cinco de Mayo celebration in Mexico, with battle re-enactments, parades and fireworks.
Yet in Mexico City, the Mexican capital of 19 million, Cinco de Mayo is no different from most other days. Although the government and many public offices were closed, much of the private sector stayed open.
At the Zocalo, Mexico City's enormous public square in the heart of the Historic Center, police officers said there would be no parades or battle re-enactments there this year.
According to El Universal, a Mexican daily, the only battle re-enactments that did occur in Mexico City took place in a small neighborhood near the airport called Peñón de los Baños. There, 2,000 citizens gathered to watch actors dressed in garish colors representing the Zacapoaxtlas indigenous group fight others dressed as French soldiers.
At the time of the actual battle, the French had landed in Mexico (along with Spanish and English troops) in early 1862 with plans to collect debts the newly elected government of President Benito Juarez, an indigenous Mexican, owed to various European nations. The English and Spanish were able to cut deals with Juarez, but the French chose to remain in Mexico under direction from Emperor Napoleon III.
A Hapsburg prince, Maximilian, and his wife Carlotta, were dispatched by Napoleon to rule Mexico with the intention of creating a Mexican empire under France's rule. When the French army, which had been undefeated in 50 years, arrived with plans to fight, it came equipped with some of the finest modern weaponry.
Mexico's defeat of France, then, on May 5 by 4,000 indigenous fighters under direction from General Ignacio Zaragoza, was a huge win, given the numerical and material superiority of France.
Although the French army eventually defeated the Mexican army, the "Batalla de Puebla" evolved as a symbol of Mexican unity and patriotism. It was also a first step for Mexico and other Latin American countries to demonstrate they can take on foreign powers.
Although scores of streets across Mexico have been named for the day (more than 300 streets are called Cinco de Mayo in Mexico City alone), the holiday seems not to have lodged itself deeply in the Mexican consciousness as Independence Day in September or Day of the Dead in November.
"Oddly enough, Cinco de Mayo has become more of Chicano holiday than a Mexican one," reads the Web site of the University of Los Angeles' Chicano-Latino Community Center. "Cinco de Mayo is celebrated on a much larger scale here in the United States than it is in Mexico. People of Mexican descent in the United States celebrate this significant day by having parades, mariachi music, folklorico dancing and other types of festive activities."
At the Casa de las Sirenas, a popular watering hole in Mexico City, Anastasio Gallo, a bartender, was preparing for the afternoon and evening flood of clients.
Gallo, however, did not expect the chic clientele that frequent the bar -- many of them politicians -- to be ordering an extra tequila in celebration of the battle.
"Today really won't be any different than any other day," Gallo told United Press International. "Politicians love their tequila no matter what, but maybe because they don't have to work today they'll drink a little more."