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15 Cinco de Mayo Traditions Everyone Can Participate In

Cinco de Mayo is a holiday that recognizes Mexican and Mexican-American culture. Celebrate the day with these Cinco de Mayo traditions.

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Happy Cinco de Mayo with two Margarita Glasses on a Colorful Mexican Blanketskodonnell/Getty Images

Cinco de Mayo traditions that enhance your festive celebration

Cinco de Mayo is a holiday many associate with indulging in delicious food and grabbing a drink with pals. And sure, that’s one way to celebrate the day, but the holiday has really evolved to celebrate Mexican and Mexican-American culture—and so have its festivities. If you’re planning a Cinco de Mayo celebration this year, incorporate these Cinco de Mayo traditions into your plans to celebrate the culture and history associated with the holiday. Whether it’s learning more about its origins, learning about Hispanic Americans who made history, or reading classic Mexican literature, you’re sure to learn some interesting historical and cultural facts while celebrating.

Mexican Flag, National Banner of Mexico Waving Against Blue SkyYangYin/Getty Images

Learn what Cinco de Mayo is really all about

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the day in 1862 when the Mexican army pulled off 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 reenactments, 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. Here are some other May holidays people can celebrate.

Mexican Cinco de Mayo FeastThe Food Group/Getty Images

Make time for tacos

A perfect way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, according to Aarón Sánchez—chef and owner of Johnny Sánchez Mexican restaurant in New Orleans, a host of the Food Network’s Chopped, and a 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). Bonus points if you serve them with a side of humor by shelling out some taco puns.

Orange County Register ArchiveMediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images/Getty Images

Head out to a real Mexican restaurant

Cinco de Mayo is a perfect day to try out one of our nation’s 49,000-plus 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.

Hands of young woman with spoon putting fried minced meat on taco tortillasshironosov/Getty Images

Whip up your own Mexican feast

To get you started, here are some recipes for authentic Mexican appetizers. And while you’re cooking, feel free to indulge in a Mexican beer (see below) or a nice margarita.

Cold drinksDeFodi Images/Getty Images

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 it is today. Of course, Mexican beer companies—notably Corona—have spent millions boosting the day’s profile. Read up on these things you may not have known were invented by Hispanic people.

Close-Up Of Tequila Shot By Lime And Aloe Vera On TableDc Johnson/Getty Images

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.

Young woman making guacamolealdomurillo/Getty Images

Make guacamole

Avocados originated in South Central Mexico, and the United States has embraced them wholeheartedly. In fact, 70 million pounds of avocados were expected to be consumed during the week of Cinco de Mayo in 2021. Holy guacamole, indeed! Here are some delicious avocado recipes that will make your mouth water.

The 49th Cervantino International FestivalLeopoldo Smith Murillo/Getty Images

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. In addition to corridos, listen to other music of Mexican origin, such as Ranchera, Mariachi, or Tejano music, which evolved among the Mexican population in South and Central Texas.

Photo Taken United StatesWitthaya Prasongsin/Getty Images

Put together a party playlist

Billboard recommends putting some popular Mexican songs from a variety of genres on your Cinco de Mayo playlist. You may also want to include songs that name-check the holiday, such as “Isis” by Bob Dylan, which mentions the “fifth day of May,” and “Cinco de Mayo” by War.

cinco de mayoSean Pavone/Shutterstock

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.

Callejon de los Sapos - Puebla, MexicoDiego Grandi/Shutterstock

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. There are plenty more reasons to visit Mexico too, like these amazing sights you can only see there.

cinco de mayoSean Pavone/Shutterstock

Attend one of the largest Cinco de Mayo parties in the U.S.

The Festival de Fiesta Broadway in Los Angeles draws hundreds of thousands of people for a raucous and culturally accurate celebration of Mexican culture, history, and heritage.

Skydiver are going to dock to the formation in the sky.Sky Antonio/Shutterstock

Go skydiving

A tradition for Mexicans living in Vancouver, Canada, skydiving is another 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.

Young man reading a bookfile404/Shutterstock

Read some classic Mexican literature

Consider Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, The Labyrinth of Solitude and Other Writings by Octavio Paz, or one of these other books by Latinx authors. If you’re more in the mood for a movie, check out the celluloid version of Like Water for Chocolate.

Mariachi Musicians Pedro Gutierrez/Shutterstock

Be respectful

Enjoy the day, but be sensitive, suggests 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.

Next, brush up on what Hispanic Heritage Month is and how it’s celebrated.

Sources:

  • The Guardian: “Puebla in the Spotlight: Month-long Celebrations Begin for Cinco de Mayo”
  • IBISWorld: “Mexican Restaurants in the US – Number of Businesses 2005–2026”
  • VinePair: “How Corona Made Cinco de Mayo an American Holiday”
  • Forbes: “Celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Tequila”
  • Globe Newswire: “100 Million Americans Expected to Celebrate Cinco de Mayo This Year”
  • National Park Service: “Corridos: Stories Told Through Song”
  • Billboard: “10 Songs You Need in Your Cinco de Mayo Spotify Playlist”
  • Britannica: “Jarabe”
  • Celebration Joy: “Cinco de Mayo: Enchanting Traditions and Activities”
  • Taste Made: “13 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Cinco de Mayo”

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.