15 Cinco de Mayo Traditions to Get Your Party Started
Cinco de Mayo is a holiday that celebrates Mexican and Mexican American culture. Here's how to turn those traditions into a festive celebration.
What Cinco de Mayo is really all about
May 5th—Cinco de Mayo—commemorates the day in 1862 the Mexican army pulled out an astounding victory over Napoleon III’s army at the Battle of Puebla, which took place in the first year after the French invaded Veracruz. (This was the start of the Franco-Mexican War, which lasted until 1867.) Although Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in Puebla and Veracruz with battle re-enactments, parades, and feasts, it’s not a national Mexican holiday—but in the U.S., we celebrate Mexican and Mexican-American culture on this day. Learn more about the history of Cinco de Mayo.
Make time for tacos
A perfect way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, according to Aarón Sánchez, the chef and owner of New Orleans’ Mexican restaurant, Johnny Sánchez, whom you may know as a host of the Food Network’s Chopped and judge on Fox’s MasterChef, is to enjoy a true icon of traditional Mexican food: the taco. One of Sánchez’s favorites is his own skirt steak taco, which he serves with grilled avocado (see below on why you should indulge in avocado on Cinco de Mayo).
Head out to a real Mexican restaurant
Cinco de Mayo is a perfect day to try out one of our nation’s 54,000 Mexican restaurants. Your best bet for discovering the delights of true Mexican cuisine is to find a restaurant with a Mexican-American chef and/or owner.
Whip up your own Mexican feast
While you’re cooking, feel free to indulge in a Mexican beer (see below) or a nice margarita. Here are some recipes for authentic Mexican favorites to get you started.
Enjoy a cerveza
Historians believe that the first Cinco de Mayo celebrations were political rallies held by Mexican-Americans to generate support for Mexico during the Franco-Mexican War. But it wasn’t until President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted the Good Neighbor Policy in 1933 that Cinco de Mayo began evolving into the colorful cultural celebration that it is today. Of course, Mexican beer companies—notably Corona—have spent millions boosting the day’s profile, according to Latina.com.
Gain some tequila knowledge
Tequila is Mexico’s most popular spirit, according to Forbes, and drinking tequila is a time-honored way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. For extra credit, try this trivia: Tequila is named for the town of Tequila, Mexico, which was founded in 1530 by Franciscan monks, and is the place where the Cuervo family first produced tequila in 1795 under a royal permit from King Carlos IV of Spain. Find out more about the surprising birthplaces of your favorite foods and drinks.
Avocados originated in South Central Mexico, and the United States have embraced them wholeheartedly. According to the California Avocado Commission, each year, Americans consume more than 81 million avocados on May 5th alone. Here are 16 delicious avocado recipes that will make your mouth water.
Listen to Mexican corridos
Around the time of the Franco-Mexican War, the most popular music in Mexico was corridos—long ballads that addressed political issues, celebrated great deeds, and told heroic stories. They’ve since evolved into tales of the Mexican experience in the U.S. To sample corridos, check out any of these albums. Or listen to any other music of Mexican origin, such as Ranchera, Norteño, Grupero, and Mariachi. Or listen to Tejano music, which evolved among the Mexican population in South and Central Texas.
Put a party playlist together
Billboard magazine recommends putting these 10 popular Mexican songs from a variety of genres on your Cinco de Mayo playlist. You may want to also include songs that name-check the holiday, such as:
- Isis, by Bob Dylan, which mentions the “fifth day of May”
- Cinco de Mayo, by War
Experience Mexican dance
Mexico has several forms of traditional dance, such as Danza and Mestizo. The national dance is the Jarabe Tapatio—more commonly known as the Mexican Hat Dance. Historically it was for courting, but today it’s done at celebrations like birthday parties. See how it looks here.
Make plans to see the Battle of Puebla
In the town of Puebla, Mexico, the origin of Cinco de Mayo, locals dress up as Mexican and French soldiers and reenact the Battle of Puebla. You can also enjoy traditional dances, great food, Mariachi music, and colorful dress and decorations. And there are plenty more reasons to visit Mexico, like these 11 amazing sights you can only see there.
Attend one of the largest Cinco de Mayo parties in the U.S.
The Festival de Fiesta Broadway in Los Angeles draws more than 600,000 people for a raucous and culturally accurate celebration of Mexican culture, history, and heritage.
A tradition for Mexicans living in Vancouver, Canada, skydiving is one option for Cinco de Mayo. Just make sure to wear red, white, and green (the colors of the Mexican flag) to keep your experience true to this tradition.
Read some classic Mexican literature
Consider Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquival, The Labyrinth of Solitude and Other Writings, by Octavio Paz, or one of these other classics of Mexican literature. If you’re more in the mood for a movie, check out the celluloid version of Like Water for Chocolate.
Enjoy the day, but be sensitive, asks Latina.com: Don’t don a sombrero or fake mustache, don’t think of the day as “Cinco de Drinko,” and be sure to sample some true Mexican culture. Learn more about the holiday with these 13 Cinco de Mayo facts you never knew.