Today is the 154th anniversary of Cinco de Mayo!

While the holiday has become known for copious alcoholic beverage consumption and lighthearted fun, Cinco de Mayo is actually derived from a very serious event: the Battle of Puebla in 1862, which occurred during France’s occupation of Mexico.

France and Mexico were mired in a war because of Mexico’s defaulting on foreign debt. This angered the French and especially their power-hungry leader, Napoleon III, who decided to wage war as retribution.

Part of Napoleon III’s grandiose visions included the installation of a monarchy in Mexico. The French, armed with a highly potent military and financial riches, were expected to oust the seemingly overmatched Mexican forces with ease.

But Mexico had other plans.

The French were greatly humbled, losing 462 French soldiers during the battle compared to just 83 Mexican deaths.

Prior to the Battle of Puebla, Mexico was a divided country with stark regional differences, according to Raul Ramos, a professor at the University of Houston. “The Battle of Puebla helped the country coalesce around the idea of a unified Mexican identity,” Ramos explains.

To this day, the Battle of Puebla serves as a symbol of Mexican independence and prosperity.

The origins of Cinco de Mayo are not to be confused with Mexico’s Independence Day, however, which is celebrated annually on September 16. 

If you plan on imbibing today, I hope you give a toast to Benito Juárez, the former Mexican president who declared Cinco de Mayo a holiday. Without him, you wouldn’t have an excuse to have a couple Coronas on a Thursday night!