May Day, Cinco De Mayo and Mayday, Mayday, Mayday

Ever wonder what May Day, Cinco De Mayo, and Mayday, Mayday, Mayday have in common?

Cinco De Mayo

Cinco De Mayo celebrates a Mexican military victory over the French in 1862.

Mexico had been part of the Spanish Empire in Latin America since 1521 when the Spanish defeated the Aztec natives. Three hundred years later, after a long rebellion, Spain recognized Mexico’s independence in 1821. However, Mexico went through years of instability. Different factions could not agree on the form of government, and there were periodic outbreaks of violence.

During the 1830s French and other foreigners living in Mexico experienced property losses due to the unstable situation in the country. One of the complainants was a pastry chef who reported that drunk Mexican army officers had ransacked his restaurant. In what became known as the ‘Pastry War,’ when Mexico refused to compensate for damages and pay other debts, the French sent a fleet to blockade Mexico. The French went on to capture the port of Veracruz. There are lots of strange reasons for war to break out, but I would say this one ‘takes the cake.’ Mexican General Santa Anna helped lead Mexican forces against the French resulting in a peace treaty in 1839. Mexico continued to experience difficulties including the Mexican-American War of the 1840s and another internal revolution in 1858.

Meanwhile, France underwent its own turmoil. The French Revolution of 1789 turned into the Reign of Terror, with thousands guillotined. Eventually, Napoleon became dictator of France and started a series of wars lasting from the late 1790s until his final defeat at Waterloo in 1815. Royal rule was restored, but another revolution in 1830 replaced that royal line with a constitutional monarchy system. 1848 saw yet more revolutions which ended the monarchy and resulted up with Napoleon’s nephew (Napoleon III) ruling as Emperor. He sought an overseas empire.

In 1861, due to financial difficulties, Mexico suspended loan payments due to Spanish, British, and French creditors. Under Napoleon III, the French decided to invade Mexico and set up an empire. The United States was embroiled in the Civil War and was not able to enforce the Monroe Doctrine which opposed European intervention in the Americas.

On May 5, 1862 (Cinco De Mayo) a well-equipped French force was defeated by an out-numbered, poorly armed Mexican force. This was a significant boost to Mexican morale and patriotism. The victory itself was short-lived as France was able to conquer Mexico City in 1863 and install a puppet Emperor, an Austrian named Maximilian. Maximilian’s reign ended in his execution when Mexican forces, with military aid from the United States, reconquered the country in 1867.

Napoleon III’s reign did not last much longer; he was captured and exiled after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

May Day

May Day is also known as International Workers Day. During the later part of the 1800s, labor and management came into increasing conflict over working conditions, hours, and pay. Labor unions set May 1, 1886 for a nationwide strike in support of “Eight-hour day with no cut in pay.” Several days later, workers in Chicago held a rally at Haymarket Square. While accounts differ, a bomb exploded, and gunfire broke out, killing several policemen and workers. In a subsequent trial, considered unfair by many, eight workers were tried, found guilty and sentenced to death. Four were hung.

In 1889, the ‘Second International,’ an international organization of socialist and labor parties, declared May 1 to be known as International Labor Day. This day, on the anniversary of the Haymarket affair, was used to support an eight-hour work day and other labor objectives.

Today, May Day is celebrated widely and is an official holiday in many countries. Communist countries frequently held major military parades on May Day.

Mayday Mayday Mayday

The phrase ‘Mayday Mayday Mayday’ is an international distress signal. In 1923 there was significant aviation traffic between England and France. A British radio officer, Frederick Stanley Mockford, was asked to develop an easily understood word in case of emergency. He came up with ‘Mayday,’ an anglicized version of the French word “m’aider” meaning “Help me.”


So what do May Day, Cinco De Mayo, and ‘Mayday Mayday Mayday’ have in common? Answer: nothing other than the month and word May. Maybe one of you readers can find some other shared characteristic, if so, feel free to share in the comments.