Cinco de Mayo is a traditional Mexican holiday with a fascinating history—but perhaps even more interesting is the fact that it's now become more popular in the United States than in Mexico. The holiday commemorates the Mexican army's victory over France at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, but it's primarily celebrated in Puebla, which is just one of Mexico's 31 states. So how did the holiday come to be such a large celebration in America?
After the Mexican Civil War in 1915, many Mexican people came to the United States and settled in the southern states. When they came to America, they brought with them their customs, traditions, and holidays—including Cinco de Mayo.
So the American people began celebrating Cinco de Mayo alongside their Mexican neighbors, but oftentimes they didn't really understand what they were celebrating; to them it was just a fun celebration of Mexican culture. Over the last hundred or so years, the holiday has taken off in America, with many people using it as an excuse to eat tacos and drink margaritas, rather than celebrating what the holiday actually stands for.
If you've celebrated this way in the past, don't sweat it: Take this as an opportunity to learn more about the history of the holiday and plan a more appropriate celebration this year.
1. Share the Real Story
Many Americans are quick to celebrate with tacos and margaritas without understanding the cultural significance of the holiday. Before partaking in any celebrations, take a few minutes to learn about the holiday and educate others you're celebrating with. "Changing stereotypes is something that we need help with, and if you do your part, we can share how awesome the truth behind Cinco de Mayo is," Sandoval says.
2. Support Mexican Businesses
While there are plenty of chain restaurants that offer Cinco de Mayo deals, Sandoval suggests supporting locally instead: Skip the Taco Bell drive-thru and order carry-out from a local Mexican-owned business in your area. "Whether it's your local Mexican Restaurant, or a local Mexican pottery store, supporting small business owners helps not just your local economy but it helps to support the Mexicans who's culture you enjoy celebrating," she says.
3. Support Mexican Arts and Museums
This holiday isn't just about the food! "So often we dismiss the value of true Mexican artesanías," Sandoval says. "If you have a local art gallery, museum, or artist, show up and support those artists and museums that are honoring Mexican history and culture." If you're not familiar with any in your area, a quick internet search can help you find local venues.
4. Eat the Food!
It's important to make sure you're celebrating Mexican heritage and not treating the day as just an excuse to go out for margaritas—but food is such a large part of the Mexican culture, that it can be one of the best (and tastiest!) ways to celebrate. Order carry-out at a local restaurant, or try making your own at home. Sandoval recommends Mole Poblano, a spicy and delicious traditional Mexican dish that originates from the city of Puebla, or Enchiladas Poblanas that are made with poblano chiles.
5. Create A Cinco De Mayo Playlist
Tune into the hottest Mexican musical artists using Amazon Music Unlimited or Spotify. Find a playlist that already exists or create your own. This is a great way to have some seriously fun music in the background while also supporting Mexican musicians at the same time!
6. Set Out Some Festive Decor
Hang some papel picado, set up streamers, go crazy! There are plenty of ways to decorate your home for Cinco de Mayo while still respecting Mexican culture—Just think or do some research before you toss sombreros everywhere. If you’re looking for generally cheerful, colorful decorations, the Auihiay 32-Piece Fiesta Party Decorations Kit is a great option.
7. Cook Your Own Mexican-Inspired Recipe
If you’d rather create your own fiesta dishes, try out some classic Mexican-inspired recipes. This is a fun way to get in the kitchen and make a delicious meal that also celebrates Mexican culture. Try researching some authentic recipes, too, if you want to really lean into the day. You might be surprised just how much you love traditional Mexican cuisine.
8. Learn Some Traditional Mexican Dance Moves
Take some time—maybe while listening to that Cinco de Mayo playlist you just made—to learn some traditional Mexican dance moves. Jarabe Tapatío (the Mexican Hat Dance) or La Conquista (which narrates the story of the Spanish conquest) are good places to start. Or, if you’d rather just sit on your couch, you can always watch videos of the dances as well. We reccomend the Los Voladores de Papantla dance, where participants scale a 30-foot pole. (!!!)
9. Make A Margarita Bar
Break out the margarita glasses, some margarita mix, your fruits of choice and (of course) some tequila. Set out all the ingredients and let everyone in your household design their own ideal margarita. From strawberry and mango to pineapple and blueberry, there’s no limit to the fun combinations you can create for a night filled with margaritas. BTW, if you’re low on supplies, the Thoughtfully Skinny Margarita Set is the perfect all-in-one buy.
10. Have A Zoom Fiesta
If you don’t have people to celebrate with at home—or even if you do—gather your friends on a group Zoom call, set some fun Zoom backgrounds and have a margarita toast. You can play some fun music, create a Mexican-themed drinking game or just chat while eating Mexican food. Cinco de Mayo is better celebrated with others—even if it’s virtually.
11. DIY A Piñata
If you’re feeling a little crafty, why not try making your own piñata? You just need cardboard, poster board, tissue paper, glue and tape for this easy and fun DIY. Plus, once it’s created, you can fill it with candy and let everyone in your home take a stab at breaking it.
12. Learn About The History Of Cinco De Mayo
Take some time this Cinco de Mayo to learn about why it’s celebrated. Sure, this might not sound like a fun party activity, but it totally can be. You can create a trivia drinking game out of it or watch videos that explain the history in an entertaining way. Knowing the history behind Cinco de Mayo can help you celebrate the holiday in a thoughtful and educated way (that definitely still includes tequila).
Sources: Better Homes & Gardens by Emily VanSchmus March 4, 2021 and StyleCaster by Maggie Griswold April 30, 2020.