Make this Mexican Holiday Your Own
If you can’t be in Mexico for Cinco de Mayo, we suggest the next best thing: Use your creative license to bring Mexican culture to life around you. Whether you’re going to a party, throwing a party, or enjoying the holiday from home, we’re full of ideas to help you celebrate to the fullest- without buying into cheesy, Americanized ideals of Mexican culture that aren’t true to life.(Trust us, when it comes to Cinco de Mayo, Mexicans do it better).
As they do for the Mexican flag, red, white, and green make the perfect backdrop for your celebration. Start there but be sure to add flourish and detail with lanterns or chili pepper lights, Mexican flags, streamers, Mexican art, and handicrafts. It’s also a fun idea to color coordinate your seating arrangement in the colors of the flag. While some parties feature live mariachi bands or instrumentals, you don’t have to break the bank to set the mood for your celebration. When it comes to Cinco de Mayo (and just about everything else), Google is your bff. Look up mariachi music, Mexican Greatest Hits, or Mexican Billboard Hits and personalize your playlist. You can also make or purchase cheap maracas or borrow an old-fashioned Spanish guitar for your celebration. With these party ideas, even the smallest celebrations are unique and memorable, not to mention bursting with photo ops.
Authentic Mexican costumes also add joie de vivre to your celebration. Did you know that in Mexico, the celebrations spill out onto the streets for festivals and reenactments of the Battle of Puebla? It’s exactly the spirit that drives people in the U.S. to Cinco de Mayo festivals in droves. Festivals and parades are obviously fun, festive ways to celebrate this Mexican holiday. But if you’re planning on partaking in the fun from the comfort of home (or another indoor party), don a costume. Fun fact: In Mexico, people wear both traditional Mexican and patriotic costumes. Do something different by taking a page out of their book on your Cinco de Mayo.
We probably don’t need to tell you that Mexico has some of the most beautiful botanicals in the world. Make your party into a paradise by adorning your indoor or outdoor space with tumbling wildflowers and lush, potted blooms. Your guests will feel transported from daily life onto a tropical vacation. Especially in an outdoor setting, stringing flowers and lanterns will create the close heat of a sultry Mexican night. Add to the effect by setting luminaries out on the tables or by the bar. For those of you who don’t know, luminaries are candlesticks with holes punched in them to create the illusion of a starry night. You can buy them online, but there a simple Google search yields simple instructions for DIYers. It goes without saying that this is also a super-romantic date idea.
When all else fails, there’s confetti! Sprinkle it everywhere, from your flower vases to the floors and the ceilings. Confetti brings your party to life with its festive brightness.
We know you’re all reading this for the food ideas, so allow us to make some not-so-mild suggestions. Enchiladas are a classic Mexican appetizer, or you can heat things up with chicken fajitas. Bonus points for the fajita idea? They’re super-easy to make; besides cooking or grilling the chicken to perfection, all you really have to do is mix together ingredients until they’re hot. Besides, the Internet is bursting with simple recipes for them. Salsa verde and guacamole can also obviously either e purchased or made from scratch.
Presuming you’re not watching your weight today, avocado fries make great use of your leftover guacamole. We’re going to be presumptuous and assume you have leftover guacamole. If you don’t, you’re not doing Cinco de Mayo right and our general advice would be to start all over again.
We recommend setting up a station where people can custom-make their own tostados. This idea is a real party pleaser, especially for picky or restricted eaters who are allergic to some foods. Beef up your buffet- with fresh veggies. Also be sure to bulk up on the basics: grated cheese, shredded lettuce, refried beans, or even simple nachos with melted cheese.
Custom-Make Your Margaritas on Cinco de Mayo
Get your creative- and alcoholic- juices going by making margaritas the way they do in Mexico. There are variations on the classic concept which you can find online, but here’s the basic idea: Mix tequila with orange liqueur for the iconic taste and color. Add a bit of lime juice for zest. Be sure to rim the glass with salt and garnish with a lime or decorative umbrella. Delish!
For a dessert-friendly twist, you can also make margarita cupcakes. Needless to say, they combine the best of both worlds. Feel free to make recipes available at your party or on your social media or blog. Some of us would like as many options as possible when meticulously handcrafting our tequila cupcakes.
Make Puebla’s Most Popular Dish
Mole poblano is not an easy dish to make, but we may have saved the best for last here. If you’ve got the time, energy, or kitchen space this year, dig in and do your best. There’s a reason that mole poblano is Peubla’s most authentic dish- and why it’s usually served up in, well, Puebla. But if you’re up to the challenge, this can also be the reason why your Cinco de Mayo party outdoes all the rest and will be remembered for years to come.
If your celebration happens to be an event, we strongly recommend adding mole poblano to the menu! Having this somewhat rare Mexican cuisine on the menu will do more than get people eating- it will get them talking. Just be sure to solicit the service of a chef, or someone with proven talent in the kitchen, to get the job done.
So what is mole poblano? It’s a thick, complicated sauce made with over a dozen ingredients. It combines chocolate with chili peppers- just in case you were still in need of a reason to add it to your Cinco de Mayo menu. It’s traditionally served over chicken. At the Festival International del Mole in Mexico, celebrity chefs talk about, prepare, and celebrate this iconic dish.
Cue the Piñata
If you’ve got kids at your Cinco de Mayo celebration, you won’t want to skimp on the fun and games. There’s a reason piñatas are a popular party staple- when you hit them, candy rains down on you. But for Cinco de Mayo parties, they’re absolute essentials. Besides that, they’re fun to make for families and kids. (Luckily for the less artistically endowed, they’re also available online and at party stores). If you do DIY, you can use a large cardboard box, stripped toilet paper rolls, and crepe paper. Be sure your party definitely features a piñata for the young and young at heart.
If you’re throwing a more adult-centered or upscale party, you don’t have to veto the piñata idea. You can actually buy or create a gorgeous floral piñata. Yes, we’re talking about a piñata in the shape of flowers. Partygoers will be impressed by your delightful twist on tradition.
Indulge Your Guests in the Ultimate Taste Test
We don’t mean to turn the subject back to food. (Okay, we do. Mexican food is undeniably delicious!) But here’s a unique suggestion that we think deserves its own section: Have a taste test or, if your bravery borders on the absurd, host an eating contest. We personally would rather endorse the taste test, but either could be fun. You can go about the taste test in the traditional way by crafting gourmet Mexican treats and having your “panel” of guests try it all. This is actually a clever way to expand your guests cultural food horizons, so be sure to have at least a few recipes or suggestions on hand. If you really want to go out for an eating contest, our only advice is to keep your Mexican food consumption at safe limits! That, and let your kids sit out of this one unless there’s a reasonable limit.
Make Real Agua Fresco
Most people think of tequila as the premier Mexican drink, and in the alcoholic sense, that’s correct. But a classic everyday Mexican drink is agua fresco. Agua fresco is flavored water unlike any that we have in the U.S. It’s combined with seeds, fruits, and actual flowers. Search Mexico via Google for favorite agua frescos like hibiscus and lime-flavored water. It gets bonus points at family-oriented Cinco de Mayo celebrations because kids can drink it, too.
Celebrating Cinco de Mayo with Kids
Let’s take a moment away from the grown-ups (sorry, big “kids”) to cater to the kids. (Don’t worry, we’ll return to the adult activities in a flash). Cinco de Mayo for kids is not all fun and games. Okay, it’s mostly fun and games, but it’s also an ample opportunity to learn about Mexican culture. Just for the record, Cinco de Mayo commemorates a day of great significance in Mexican history. On May 5th, 1862, Mexico forged an unlikely victory over the undefeated French Army at Puebla. Make history with your kids by reenacting the battle in your living room. (No, seriously).
Children are naturally curious about the world around them, and many of them learn best by playing. So have them reenact the Battle of Puebla with toy soldiers or in costume. Disclaimer: The focus isn’t on throttling each other and literally turning the living room into a real life battle simulation. (Thus, prohibiting actual fighting is generally advised). But learning about history hands-on can be fun, and it’s a surefire way to make sure your kids remember what they learned about an important day in Mexican history.
To add more authenticity to Cinco de Mayo, take your kids to a Mexican grocery store and let them pick out ingredients to use in simple Mexican entrees. (If you’ve got a kids’ recipe book on hand, you’ll find lots of yummy selections; if not, Google is once more your bff). Besides the experience of shopping the way people do in a culture that’s different from their own, there’s another benefit to this idea: Mexican grocers have large selections of fruits and vegetables, some of which your kids might not be familiar with. A good portion of mouth-watering Mexican deserts are made from real fruit rather than refined sugar. It’s never a bad idea to teach kids healthy cooking and eating. Don’t just expose your kids to cultural foods- teach them how to make them on their own so that healthy, diverse eating habits are permanently ingrained in their lives. Making Mexican food on Cinco de Mayo is the perfect opportunity to show your kids how delicious healthy choices can be. Of course, if their fave Mexican dessert requires heaps of sugar, you might want to indulge them on this delectable holiday).
It’s Not the Same Old Song and Dance
In our opinion, the best family fun ideas blend art with tradition, or song with dance. If you’re really ready to let loose from the comfort of your own home, record a favorite Mexican song and dance. If you’re really brave, you can share your performance on social media so your kids’ friends can join in on the fun. Ahead of time, help your kids design a costume or even ornate sombrero to wear on Cinco de Mayo. If you play the day right, your kids won’t even know they’re learning about Mexican culture and history.
What Cinco de Mayo Means for Mexicans
You want your kids to grow up knowing that Cinco de Mayo is not actually a cheap excuse to engage in hedonism and drunken revelry. Although there’s no shame in drinks or revelry on Cinco de Mayo, it’s important to understand that the holiday is a meaningful part of Mexican history and culture. The French occupation of Mexico took place after the Mexican-American War and the Reform War. The Reform War was largely about separation of church and state. (Liberals fought for it, along with freedom of religion. Conservatives obviously fought against it, believing there should be a tight bond between the Mexican State and the Roman Catholic Church. Because these wars left the Mexican Treasury nearly bankrupt, the Mexican President took a stand. He declared that all foreign debt payments would be held off for two full years. France, Britain, and Spain were incensed and sent their naval forces to Mexico. While Spain and Britain negotiated with Mexico and sent their forces home, France decided to invade Mexico. Led by Napoleon III, they set out to establish a Latin Empire in Mexico. The Second Mexican Empire would obviously work for French interests.
When a French fleet invaded Veracruz in 1861, the President and his government were driven into retreat. The French army moved into Mexico City, where they met a shocking fate. Close to Puebla, the French army attached the much smaller, poorer Mexican army. Keep in mind that the French army was more than 4,000 people larger than the Mexican army, and much better armed. Yet on Cinco de Mayo, the Mexicans managed to defeat the French army.
For Mexicans, this defeat propelled Mexico forward on the map. It was an impetus to boost the Mexican army, and raised its confidence as a nation. Although Mexico still faced a lot of trouble ahead, this particular victory was very much a symbolic victory.
To this day, the Cinco de Mayo victory represents the power of pride and unity for Mexicans. That’s why it’s important that we make sure our U.S. festivities are both culturally sensitive and genuinely celebratory of Mexican culture.
Celebrating Cinco de Mayo Around the Country
If you live on the road or are traveling on Cinco de Mayo, here’s a list of some of the most notable Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the country. If there’s an ideal place to celebrate this holiday, we say it’s the wild, Wild West. With its desert air and nearness to Mexico, our number one choice is Albuquerque. It would be impossible to recommend one specific celebration, because on Cinco de Mayo this city becomes a living, breathing tribute to Mexican culture. It’s a vivid celebration of Mexican culture, art, and music that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else outside of Mexico.
Just a bit to the west, California is another hotspot for Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Again, it would be virtually impossible to name them all even if we had till, well, Cinco de Mayo. But since the holiday is rapidly approaching, we’ll make mention of the most popular ones. San Francisco takes to the streets for an annual celebration in Mission, where cultural entertainment is free all day long. You know what else is free in Mission on Cinco de Mayo? Health screenings. True to its liberal values, San Francisco makes a point of incorporating free healthcare into the festivities on Cinco de Mayo. This Mission celebration also uniquely features Lucha Libre wrestlers. Where else but San Francisco can you find cultural entertainment, health screenings, and wrestling all in one celebration? Don’t answer that, just join in the fun.
For something slightly more traditional, head down to San Diego for live entertainment. Bazaar del Mundo takes place in Old Town, but the entire town comes alive with Mexican culture and Cinco de Mayo parties.
One of the biggest Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the country happens in Denver, Colorado. The Cinco de Mayo Celebrate Culture Festival features two full days of Mexican culture, art, and entertainment. If you like your music live, this festival has it all: Mexican regional, Latin jazz, Spanish rock, salsa, and much more.
Chicago, Omaha, Reno, Portland, and San Antonio are other hot festival spots on Cinco de Mayo.
Celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Mexico
If you’re lucky enough to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Mexico, you’re going to want to do it right! The enormous parade in Puebla is a cultural phenomenon, and more than worth being part of. Thousands of locals dress as Mexican and French soldiers for a festivalized reenactment of the battle. Then the celebrations commence at full force. There’s music, dance, food, and a magical sense of togetherness that is deeply rooted in Mexican history. And of course, the food, music, art, and performance is thousands of times more authentic than it is in the U.S.
Puebla is also home to the Festival Internacional de Puebla, another cultural phenomenon that draws artists from around the entire world. Traditional Mexican musicians, dancers, and performers play mariachi music, maracas, and flamenco guitar.
Feel free to pick up any ideas you can and bring them home to the U.S., where we’re always looking to outdo last year’s festivities- and make them more true to life.
However you choose to celebrate the holiday this year, we hope we’ve given you some serious Cinco de Mayo inspiration.