How to Throw a Cinco de Mayo Party

Cinco de Mayo party

Photo used with permission

Cinco de Mayo is almost upon us! This holiday is the perfect time to learn more about Mexican culture and history and celebrate in an authentic way. Are you throwing a fiesta this year? We’ve put together a guide to help you plan decorations, music, food and drinks. Time to plan the best Cinco de Mayo party!

History of Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo party

Photo used with permission.

You cannot celebrate another culture’s holiday without first understanding why the holiday was created. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over French forces sent to Mexico by Napoleon III in 1862 to collect a debt. The Mexican army was vastly outnumbered but managed to fend off the attack by the French that would become known as the Battle of Puebla.

Cinco de Mayo is mainly celebrated in Puebla, Mexico, where the battle took place. This city in southern Mexico hosts some of the biggest and most memorable Cinco de Mayo celebrations with battle reenactments, parades and citywide festivities. Cinco de Mayo is actually not widely celebrated across Mexico- generally only Puebla, Veracruz and some larger cities like Mexico City will observe the day.

Cinco de Mayo is celebrated more in the United States than in Mexico- particularly in areas with large Mexican-American populations. It has now become a day to celebrate Mexican heritage and culture. Festivities today include Mexican folk dancing, parades and traditional food and drink like mole poblano and aguas frescas.

Cinco de Mayo is not to be confused with Mexican Independence Day, which is celebrated in September and marks Mexico’s independence from the Spanish (before the Battle of Puebla).

How to Throw a Cinco de Mayo Party

Ready to plan your Cinco de Mayo party? We’ll take you into some of the cultural mainstays of an authentic celebration, so you can stay true to the roots of the holiday.

Cinco de Mayo Decorations

Cinco de Mayo party

Photo used with permission.

Mexican fiestas make great use of color in the decorations. Skip stereotypical banners with cacti, sombreros and the like. Since the holiday celebrates the perseverance of Mexico, decorate in the colors of the Mexican flag (red, green and white).

Besides banners and bunting, you can decorate with papel picado. You’ve probably seen this before if you’ve ever been to Mexico or a traditionally decorated restaurant. Papel picado are banners made of colorful tissue paper cutouts that are usually strung between buildings to hang across streets. Papel picado is a type of folk art in Mexico and often used as decoration for big holidays.

Did you know that certain holidays use specific colors? A secular holiday like Cinco de Mayo uses a rainbow of colors which will make these decorations even more vibrant! All you need to make papel picado banners are different colors of tissue paper, scissors and yarn or twine to hang your banners on. Our favorite tutorial is from Paula at Frog Prince Paperie- she breaks down exactly how to make these colorful decorations.

Cinco de Mayo partyDIY Cinco de Mayo Decorations

Cinco de Mayo Food and Drink

When you think of a Cinco de Mayo party, you’ll inevitably think of tacos and margaritas. There’s nothing wrong with serving these at your fiesta, but there are so many authentic food and drink options you can include as well!

Mole Poblano

Cinco de Mayo party

Mole (pronounced moh-lay with an empasis on the second syllable) has been dubbed the national dish of Mexico with tons of variations associated with different regions of Mexico. Mole poblano is the mole sauce associated with Puebla, the state where the landmark battle occurred. Mole poblano is not a dish you can throw together quickly- an authentic recipe usually has around 20 ingredients. It’s a chili pepper-based sauce with tons of spices and a little unsweetened chocolate to balance out the heat. The result is a bold, delicious sauce that can be served over chicken, beef, pork or fish.

Mely from Mexico in My Kitchen has a truly authentic mole recipe:

Mole Poblano Recipe from Mexico in My Kitchen
Chiles en Nogada
Cinco de Mayo party

Chiles en nogada are most often served for Mexican Independence Day but would make a colorful and authentic addition to a Cinco de Mayo menu! Best of all, chiles en nogada is said to have been invented in Puebla. The dish represents all the colors of the Mexican flag and consists of a poblano pepper stuffed with picadillo (meat, spices, vegetables and fruit) and topped in a rich walnut sauce then garnished with pomegranate seeds and parsley. It’s a big departure from the tacos most Americans are used to but serving this dish at your Cinco de Mayo party gives you and your guests a chance to try something different!

We like this chiles en nogada recipe from Douglas at the Mexican Food Journal:

Chiles en Nogada Recipe from the Mexican Food Journal
Chalupas
Cinco de Mayo party

Did you know chalupas are a specialty of the Puebla region? They’re popular as street food and super easy to make. A chalupa is simply a fried tortilla topped with salsa, onions, peppers, meat and cheese. There are a ton of variations on chalupas; traditional chalupas served in Puebla usually only have salsa, cheese and shredded lettuce. But you can offer your guests a variety of toppings!

Lisa from Garlic & Zest has an authentic chalupa recipe that is so simple.

Authentic Chalupa Recipe from Garlic & Zest
Aguas Frescas
Cinco de Mayo party

Agua fresca is made of water, fruit and seeds all blended together with sugar to make a light, refreshing drink. Not to be confused with bottled soda, agua fresca can be made with just about any fruit you like. The most popular ones are watermelon, strawberry, guava, cucumber, pineapple, mango and cantaloupe- to name just a few! Many even incorporate chia seeds, hibiscus tea and horchata.

You can certainly serve margaritas at your Cinco de Mayo party, but this provides an authentic nonalcoholic option!

Melissa from The Happier Homemaker has several aguas frescas recipes:

Agua Fresca Recipe from The Happier Homemaker
Sangrita
Cinco de Mayo party

Okay, so you served up the aguas frescas and your guests are wondering when the tequila is coming out. Well, it is Cinco de Mayo. Instead of traditional tequila shots with salt and lime, serve yours with sangrita. No, not sangria (wine and fruit juice).

In Mexico, tequila is traditionally served with sangrita, a juice shooter with spice to complement the liquor. Originally a sour pomegranate and orange concoction, sangrita is now usually a mix of tomato juice, orange juice, grenadine and chili pepper. There are tons of variations though- some are sweet and some are spicy. You won’t often find sangrita mix in a bar or store so it’s easier to make your own at home. Perfect for a Cinco de Mayo party!

Serious Eats has a ton of different sangrita recipes you can try:

Sangrita Recipe from Serious Eats
Ready for Your Cinco de Mayo Party?

Hopefully you feel a little more prepared to host a Cinco de Mayo party. It pays to know the history and context of another culture’s holiday before you celebrate. Now, you can host armed with knowledge and a few good recipes up your sleeve.

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