There are still a lot of misconceptions about Cinco de Mayo, but there is really no excuse to celebrate if you don’t understand the origins of the holiday. Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of the Mexican Army’s victory over the French Empire during the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The Battle of Puebla is celebrated in the state of Puebla, where the battle took place, but is not celebrated across Mexico.
Many argue that the defeat of the French at Puebla prevented French support of the Confederate Army during the U.S. Civil War. While we can’t say for sure what would have happened if the Confederates had support from the French Empire, the Mexican victory proved a significant assurance to the Mexican Army. While the French Empire eventually defeated the Mexican Army, the Battle of Puebla showed everyone the power of the Mexican resistance.
Why We celebrate Cinco de Mayo in America
The Mexican Army was led by President Benito Juárez, a member of the Indigenous Zapotec tribe. Many of the Mexican troops who fought in the Battle of Puebla were Indigenous or of mixed ancestry. In the 1960’s, Chicano activists who identified with the victory of Indigenous Mexicans against the European invaders popularized the holiday in the United States. The celebration of Cinco de Mayo in America has become a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage.
It can be fun to explore other cultures and heritages as a family, but it is important to keep appreciation and understanding at the center. It can be easy to fall into the trap of using tokens, costumes or anglicized recipes to celebrate, especially with young children. Ditch the sombreros. Don’t be intimidated.
We have you covered with 5 family friendly ways to celebrate:
1. Celebrate Mexican Folk Art
The Mexican folk art is art by the people and requires no formal art training. Mexcian folk art includes a diverse collection of utilitarian pieces. The regional differences are apparent through the strong influences from nature, landscapes and religion. Mexican folk art has derived from many of the different Mesoamerican cultures along with Spanish, Arabic and Asiatic influences.
Because Mexican folk art is utilitarian it makes for awesome additions to your home. Please always buy from Mexican artisans to support local communities. These pieces can be displayed and used in your home all year long or you can buy papel picado to decorate for a holiday.
If you’re up for some family craft time there are a bunch of easy ways to bring the essence of Mexican folk art into the home. You can try making your own papel picado by folding tissue paper lengthwise two times and cutting designs along the folds. If you have made paper snowflakes, it is a similar process.
We love coloring so we made some Amate Paper Painting inspired bird art that included vibrant color, repetitive patterns and strong lines. This style is great for families because you can be as simple or complex as your skills allow.
2. Eat Authentic Mexican Food
I have been to Mexico a few times and I love a variety of Mexican food. The regional differences in cuisine offer so much diversity. This Cinco de Mayo find a local authentic Mexican restaurant (not tex-mex) and try Mole Poblano, which originates from the city of Puebla, or Enchiladas Poblanas that are made with poblano chile. Other dishes common in Puebla include pork barbecue, cemita poblana, molotes, memelas, tacos arabes, and chiles en nogada.
If you can’t find authentic Mexican food locally check out this Mole Poblano recipe from Mexico in My Kitchen. I love the pictures and details on all her recipes. We learned how to make aguas frescas from her site and LOVE making some on a hot day!
If you are short on time or have picky eaters try buying some foods that include flavors that are popular in Mexican cuisine or choose similar cooking methods. If all else fails get some of the amazing Mexican sweets like paletas, reganadas, flan, rice pudding or tres leches cake to name a few. The most important thing is that your family has a positive experience appreciating authentic Mexican cuisine.
3. Read Mexican literature
The state of Puebla has many well known works of literature and home to many accomplished poets, playwrights and writers. The proof is in the library. Puebla is home to the first library of the Americas. Novels, folklore, poetry and even biographies are a beautiful way to become more acquainted with the Mexican culture.
We were first introduced to Folklore of Puebla years ago when my sister got a copy of The Princess and The Warrior A Tale of Two Volcanoes by Duncan Tonatiuh for our girls. We LOVE this book. The art work is inspired by indigenous art and the story tells the tale of two lovers based on the legend of Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl. If you love this book as much as we do check out some other works by Duncan Tonatiuh.
Some of our other favorite Mexican stories for families include: Viva Frida, Dream Carver, The Cazuela That The Farm Maiden Stirred and What Can You Do With A Paleta?. For older readers we love: The House on Mango Street, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and Mexican Whiteboy.
4. Listen to Mexican Music
Cinco de Mayo celebrations are often accompanied by mariachi music. We love mariachi music, but don’t let it steal the spotlight. There is traditional music from Puebla that has influences from the waltz, zarzuela and the Mexican version of trova. It is admittedly hard to find music from Puebla here in the states, but check out Mexican trova, banda, norteño, ranchera, huasteco, jarocho, grupera, tamborazo zacatecano, and marimba-based ensembles where ever you stream music.
You can get a sample of Mexican music with these famous songs: “Oye cómo va” by Santana, “La Bamba” by Ritchie Valens, “Bésame mucho” by Consuelo Velázquez and “Como la Flor” by Selena.
I would be remiss not to mention the favorite Mexican band of my high school self, Maná. Check out “Rayando El Sol”, “Oye Mi Amor” and “En el Muelle de San Blas” if you want to really treat yourself this Cinco de Mayo. For my fellow hiphop fans check out the Mexican Latin rap group Control Machete. They were also a favorite of my high school self.
5. Learn About Puebla
The battle of Puebla is the reason for Cinco de Mayo so don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about the beautiful people, culture and history of the place. Aside from the foods, stories and art already mentioned, there is so much more to learn about the state of Puebla. The beautiful landscapes called Pueblos Mágicos are reason to add Puebla to your travel list. Puebla de Zaragoza is the capital of Puebla and its largest city and a Cultural Heritage of Humanity site by the UNESCO.
Puebla is also home to the Cholula, the largest pyramid in Mesoamerica. The legend of Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl is based on two volcanoes, one active, in Puebla.
The painted Talavera tiles, originated in the region as a combination between Spanish pottery and native designs, and adorn local buildings. The traditional style of dress called china poblano also originated in Puebla. Local folk art also includes the clay craft called the Trees of Life.
This is really just scratching the surface so take something your family is interested in and get to researching!
salud to your Cinco de Mayo celebration
Don’t worry we didn’t forget the drinks! Don’t be drawn into the margarita trap. Try something new this year like a Horchata, Michelada, Paloma or Tepache. Our freinds at Reed’s sent over some of their craft ginger beer to enjoy this Cinco de Mayo. We can’t wait to try them with some tequilla in our aguas frescas for a little grown up version. Reed’s also makes a great addition to a Paloma or Michelada.
Created by Reed’s
- 2 oz. of Blanco Tequila
- 4 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
- .5 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
- Top with Reed’s Extra Ginger Beer
- Lime Wedge (For Garnish)
Fill each glass half full with ice. Mix fresh lime, grapefruit juice and tequila. Stir until well combined. Top with Reed’s Extra Ginger Beer for a sweet and spicy kick! Garnish with a lime wedge and enjoy!
Ginger Ale Michelada
Created by Maya Feller
Ginger has long been loved for its health benefits. Soothing an upset tummy, being useful to manage nausea and adding a protective antioxidant boost to support systems within the body. Sitting down to a Ginger Ale Michelada made with real ginger is quite a treat. If you want to add alcohol to your version, add 4oz of the beer of your choice and reducing the ginger ale to 4oz for a low alcohol drink.
- 6 oz. Reeds Zero Sugar Real Ginger Ale
- 1 oz. lime juice
- 2 oz. tomato juice
- 1 tsp hot sauce
- Lime juice (For rim)
- Tajin seasoning (For rim)
- Fresh lime wedge (For garnish)
- Sliced jalapeño (For garnish)
Rub the rim of each glass with lime juice. Turn each glass upside down and coat the rim with the tajin seasoning. Fill each glass half full with ice. Pour 6oz of Reed’s Zero Sugar Real Ginger Ale into each glass. Add lime juice, tomato juice and hot sauce. Stir until well combined. Garnish with lime wedges and sliced jalapeño.