Wednesday is Cinco de Mayo and Americans will down Coronas and margaritas to celebrate this important Mexican holiday. Or is it?

Despite the hype in the U.S., Cinco de Mayo is not a Mexican national holiday. In fact, outside of the state of Puebla, most Mexicans don’t observe the day at all. And forget what you heard about Cinco de Mayo being Mexican Independence Day. That occurred on Sept. 15 1810, more than 50 years before the events that led to the annual May 5 celebration.

Mexico was facing bankruptcy in 1861 when President Benito Juarez imposed a 2-year moratorium on paying foreign debts. Great Britain, Spain and France responded by seizing the customs house in the Gulf of Mexico port city of Veracurz.

Spain and Great Britain quickly reached an agreement with Juarez and withdrew their armies. France, however, decided to push inland with plans to overthrow the Mexican government.

It wasn’t money that motivated the French, but rather the Monroe Doctrine. The French in particular were peeved about the United States policy to fight all efforts by European nations to colonize land in the Western Hemisphere. With the U.S. locked in a brutal civil war, Napoleon III calculated that the debt dispute with Mexico would be an ideal time to invade America’s southern neighbor. After taking Mexico, he planned to assist the Confederacy, thereby splitting the U.S. and stopping America’s further western expansion.

That was the setting on May 5, 1862, as 8,000 French troops attacked Puebla, Mexico, about 100 miles southeast of Mexico City. Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza had a rag-tag bunch of farmers with antiquated rifles to defend the city against the world’s strongest army. Miraculously, Zarzgoza’s forces were successful in thwarting the French.

That’s the root of the Cinco de Mayo observances. And while Zaragoza’s victory in the Battle of Puebla was important, it only delayed the French in overthrowing Juarez’s democratically elected government. With the end of the U.S. Civil War in 1865, President Andrew Johnson began covertly supplying Juarez’s supporters with guns, and the French were forced out by 1867.

So why are American’s so gung-ho about Cinco de Mayo? For the same reason we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with such gusto – beer marketers tell us to. Bill Hackett admitted as much in a 2003 article in the New York Times.

It gives us an opportunity … to really get a jump-start on the summer beer selling season,” said Hackett, president of Chicago-based Barton Beers, which is the U.S. importer of Corona Extra, Corona Light, Modelo Especial and Pacifico beers. According to the Times’ article, Barton sold 100 million bottles of Corona in the two weeks leading up to Cinco de Mayo.

Did you know?

  • The Margarita was the most popularly ordered drink in 2008, representing 18% of all mixed drink sales in the U.S. Runners up were the martini, rum and Coke, vodka and tonic, and the Cosmopolitan. (Source: Cheers On-Premise Handbook 2008)
  • On average, Americans consume 185,000 Margaritas per hour. (Source: Brown-Forman, 2008)
  • Margarita consumption peaks in the South, accounting for 34.9% of sales. (Source: Brown-Forman, 2008)
  • Based on sales, Atlanta, Miami, St. Louis and Nashville are among the best major metro cities for Margarita drinking. (Source: Cheers On-Premise Handbook 2008)
  • The U.S. is the number one tequila market. (Source: Cheers On-Premise Handbook 2008)
  • The original Margarita was invented in 1948 by Dallas socialite Margarita Sames, at her vacation home in Acapulco.