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Cinco de Mayo Celebrations: A History Lesson and a “How-To”

Haley Kurisky
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Rice University seniors Brian Gravesmill and Amy Fox made this festive piñata together.

Cinco de Mayo, which translates to the 5th of May, is a holiday widely celebrated in the United States as a false “Mexican Independence Day,” filled with tequila and queso. Cinco de Mayo isn’t actually Mexican Independence Day - it celebrates an important battle won by the Mexican army against the French army in 1862. The real Mexican Independence Day is in September.

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated with military parades, and doesn’t have the same party connotations that it does here in the United States. In fact, according to this Seeker post, the holiday was invented in California in 1863.

Regardless, it’s a good excuse to celebrate Mexican-American culture, so in light of this, I’ve come up with some ideas for celebrating.

Make a piñata

Piñatas are a fun tradition that originated in Spain and were brought to Mexico. They consist of a papier-mâché shape filled with candy. They can be really fun to make, so try it yourself. Here’s a how-to. 

Hang up papel picado banners

These banners are a sign of Mexican folk art that can be seen in many traditional Mexican restaurants or places of gathering. They are also used for religious gatherings in Mexico. Make your own. 

Brush up on your Spanish

I always encourage everyone to be at least conversational in another language. I took Spanish throughout high school and took a class in college and love it. You don’t need Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to practice your Spanish, but it’s a good reason! There are plenty of fun games online to practice

Taste-test margaritas

The margarita originated in Mexico in the 1930s and has been associated with Mexican culture ever since. Some claim that it originated in Houston, though, so believe whichever story you want! Here are 28 recipes. 

Try a traditional dish

There are so many delicious Mexican dishes that go by the wayside in favor of queso. Try something more traditional like Mexican corn on the cob! Here’s a recipe.  Or try my favorite dessert of all time, tres leches

Cinco de Mayo is a great time to hang out with friends and celebrate Mexican culture, but this year, try doing it with an eye toward tradition and history! 

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