Mexican festive food for Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo the Healthy Way

On May 5, people around the country celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

You’ve probably seen advertisements from liquor companies on TV or local restaurants offering deals to celebrate the holiday, but what is Cinco de Mayo really about?

Let’s take a moment to learn a little bit about the history of this day and its meaning. We’ll also highlight some healthy ways to celebrate with food and nonalcoholic drinks.

The History of Cinco de Mayo

Many people in the U.S. believe that Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of Mexico’s independence, but that isn’t accurate. According to an article from the Library of Congress on the roots of Cinco de Mayo, the holiday actually celebrates the unexpected Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla, which took place on May 5, 1862.

Knowing the rich history behind the day and learning more about the culture and tradition of the Puebla area in Mexico can make your celebrations that much more fun and special.

A year earlier, in 1861, Mexican President Benito Juarez was dealing with a country in financial ruin after two years of civil war. Because of this, President Juarez suspended payment of all foreign debts. In response, France invaded Mexico with plans not just to seize payment, but to conquer the nation and establish a pro-French monarchy to rule it.

France’s elite army was much bigger, outnumbering Mexican soldiers two-to-one, and better equipped and trained. But in Puebla, the smaller and under-resourced Mexican army prevailed. The victory became a source of national pride and boosted the army’s morale.

However, according to the History Channel, the victory at Puebla was only able to delay the eventual French victory. The French went on to capture Mexico City and install Emperor Maximillian I as ruler. It took until 1866 for the Mexican army to expel the French and capture and execute the emperor.

The victory at Puebla became a symbol of Mexican resistance to foreign domination. When Benito Juarez reassumed the presidency, he declared May 5, the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, a national holiday. Today Cinco de Mayo is celebrated all over the U.S. and Mexico as well as in Puebla, and has evolved into a commemoration of Mexican culture, heritage and pride.

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo

Mexican cuisine. Traditional Mexican chicken enchiladas.Depending on where you live, you may find there’s a parade, festival or a local celebration being held in your community to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. In addition, many households choose to celebrate with Mexican food and drinks.

Food is a great way to connect us and help us learn about different cultural traditions and regions of the world. If you only use your TV as your guide, you may think that drinking a Mexican beer, a marguerita, or tequila is the best way to celebrate. However, there are healthier, meaningful ways to incorporate food and drinks into your celebration.

According to many travel sites, including an article for CNN travel, many beloved Mexican dishes have their roots in Puebla. For example, mole poblano is one of the most famous dishes of the Puebla region. The spicy chocolate sauce was said to be invented by a local woman who was trying to clean everything out of her pantry. Do a quick Internet search for healthy mole poblano recipes and a lot of options pop up. Pick one and give it a try!

In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) put together a Cinco de Mayo menu featuring healthy, flavorful recipes including a simple Mexican salad, chicken pozole soup and more. The USDA also provides a recipe for watermelon agua fresca, a cold blended drink you can serve as a lighter, healthier alternative to sugary alcoholic drinks like margaritas.

The Food Network also offers several recipes meant for a Cinco de Mayo celebration, including nachos with a mole sauce, simple guacamole and more.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthy Teaching Kitchen offers a recipe for homemade tortilla chips, which allows you to control how much salt and sodium your chips contain. You can pair these chips with a healthy pico de gallo recipe that uses fresh tomatoes, cilantro and onion.

Knowing the rich history behind the day and learning more about the culture and tradition of the Puebla area in Mexico can make your celebrations that much more fun and special. Happy Cinco de Mayo!

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