Cinco de Mayo wasn’t always about tacos and tequila, and it’s often mistaken for the Mexican Independence Day. The fifth day of May is actually the Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla. This holiday is celebrated in parts of Mexico and the United States in honor of a military victory in 1862 over Napoleon III’s French forces. The day is celebrated specifically in the state of Puebla with parades, speeches and reenactments of the 1862 battle.

So how did this celebration of a military victory for a region in Mexico become an excuse to drink and wear a fake mustache?

In 1862, the French invaded Mexico following a financially straining Mexican civil war. Napoleon III was intent on establishing a Mexican regime and the Mexican Republic soldiers prepared to face the intimidating French armies. Against the odds, Mexican forces held against the French at the Battle of Puebla, which was named after the city that the battle took place near. Even though the French eventually overtook the Mexican forces, the Battle of Puebla served as a rallying point for Mexican resistance troops. Later, with the help of American troops, Mexican forces eventually reclaimed their country from the French.

The Battle of Puebla Day was a national holiday throughout Mexico, but by the 1930s it had become an opportunity to celebrate Mexican heritage for the growing number of Mexican Americans then residing in the United States.

In the mid 20th century in the United States, the celebration of Cinco de Mayo became a means for Mexican immigrants to encourage pride in their Mexican heritage. Cinco de Mayo grew in popularity partly because of the introduction of the Good Neighbor policy implemented by President Franklin Roosevelt. During that time period the Good Neighbor Policy was the U.S. government’s effort to connect to neighboring countries in Central and Southern America.

The holiday’s popularity grew in the 1960s, when Chicano activists embraced the holiday as a way to increase pride among Mexican-Americans. Over time, Mexican-Americans’ festivities evolved into an inclusive celebration of Mexican heritage.

Ultimately, the holiday became so prominent that Americans with no Mexican heritage began to participate in the festivities as well. As a result, large companies began getting involved to make Cinco de Mayo into a profitable enterprise. However, as Cinco de Mayo became more mainstream, so did its focus — and with that, the holiday’s true origins were mostly forgotten. Enthusiasm for the holiday did not really become popularized until it was linked with the promotion of Mexican alcoholic beverages like Cervezas and Margaritas. Many American celebrations tended to maintain negative stereotypes of Mexicans and promoted excessive drinking.

Cinco de Mayo events are often sponsored by beer companies. In the early 1980s, Anheuser Busch and Miller each created Hispanic marketing departments and began sponsoring these celebrations, according to Business Insider. Cinco de Mayo — once a regional celebration of a military victory — transformed into tacos, tequila and mexican beer, with the occasional sombrero thrown in. Cinco de Mayo’s commercialization isn’t too different from other popular ethnic holidays and festivals like St. Patrick’s Day and Oktoberfest, both of which have been turned into Americanized party holidays.  

With the continual commercials and ads being broadcasted on television, radio and the internet, Cinco de Mayo can be a triggering holiday for individuals in recovery. With that being said, no one wants to feel excluded on a day of a celebration, but how can you celebrate the holiday  soberly? There are some suggestions for how individuals in recovery can celebrate Cinco de Mayo, sober:

Host a Sober Barbecue

By this point in the year, most locations in the United States have begun to experience warmer weather, so it’s a perfect time to host a barbecue. Barbecues often include alcohol, but they can be just as fun and enjoyable without alcoholic drinks. Having a dry barbecue encourages time for much more fun activities like cornhole, dominoes, card games and horseshoes. You’re never too old for water games and slip and slides either — and with zero alcohol involved, there’s less of a risk for injury.

Make It a Beach Day

People who live near the ocean or another large body of water like a river or lake, know how relaxing a day on the water can be. A day at the beach can be a rejuvenating and fun way to get active or relax. Whether it’s reading and sunbathing or swimming and surfing in the ocean, a beach day is a great way to still have a fun holiday and remain sober.

See a Movie

Most of the population of Mexico don’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo, so it’s okay if it goes unacknowledged by someone trying to have some sober fun. People in recovery don’t have to allow social pressures to influence them into binge drinking and partying simply because of a day on the calendar – especially if they are aware of the fact that drinking has a negative effect on them. Going to the movies is always a great option for a fun activity and because it is a holiday, it could be easier to avoid the crowds.

If you’d still like to have an option to celebrate the day, you can also check out some movies or documentaries about Mexican culture. You can browse Netflix or your local library for documentaries to watch. IMDB also has a list of 20 films by Mexican directors or about life in Mexico. Instead of binge-drinking, a person in recovery can learn about Mexican culture to celebrate the holiday.

Treat Yourself to a Spa Day

America’s favorite unofficial holiday is the perfect excuse to treat yourself to a me-day. On triggering days like Cinco de Mayo, it’s important that mental health remains a priority.  A few options for a relaxing mental health day include:

  • Visit a spa for a massage
  • Try acupuncture
  • Take a yoga class or practice it at home
  • Go on a walk at your favorite park
  • Curl up and read an interesting book
  • Take a nap – without the guilt!

Do Nothing

As hard-working adults, most people know the value of a good “do nothing” day. Having a lazy day on the couch binging on Netflix shows or engaging in other mindless hobbies is fine every once in a while. Sometimes simply existing without a worry does a lot for a person and their overall mental health.

Staying sober is the main objective on these “binge-drinking” holidays. It can be a difficult day for individuals in recovery. If you or someone you know is struggles with an alcohol use disorder or has experienced a recent setback call The Recovery Village and speak with one of our representatives. The call is free, completely confidential and representatives are available around the clock.

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