How To Throw A Cinco De Mayo Party

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A Cinco de Mayo party is the perfect way to celebrate the coming of spring and Mexico's rich cultural heritage.

Understanding Cinco De Mayo

As its name implies, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated on the fifth of May. While many people incorrectly believe it to be Mexican Independence Day, this holiday actually commemorates the 1862 victory of the Mexican army over the French, in the Battle of Puebla. At that time, the French army had not lost a battle in 50 years, and the Mexicans were greatly outnumbered.

People celebrate Cinco de May in many parts of the world, and traditions vary depending on location. Here are a few regional traditions to provide some inspiration for your party:

  • Mexico: Cinco de Mayo in its homeland features lavish parades with people dressed up as Mexican and French soldiers, and reenactments of the Battle of Puebla. Vendors get in the spirit by selling traditional Mexican foods and patriotic clothing and accessories.
  • Vancouver Canada: In Vancouver, Cinco de Mayo is commemorated with an annual skydiving event.
  • Cayman Islands: Cayman Islanders lend a unique party spirit to this holiday with an annual air guitar contest.
  • Island of Malta: The people of Malta remember Cinco de Mayo by drinking genuine Mexican beer.
  • United States: Here in the U.S. (as well as some parts of Canada), Cinco de Mayo parties are the main way this holiday is observed. These parties feature Mexican music, costumes, decorations, food and dancing.
cinco de mayo party ideas cinco de mayo party ideas

Cinco De Mayo Decoration Ideas

The bright sundrenched Mexican color palette plays a large role in Cinco de Mayo décor. Stick to bold, bright shades of turquoise, yellow, green, orange, pink, red, white and purple. Feature the colors of the Mexican flag: green, white and red for added authenticity.

To further enhance your Mexican atmosphere, include Mexican themes in your party design such as:

  • Chili peppers
  • Cactus
  • Mexican blanket motifs.

These decorative touches are sure to get your guests in a festive mood:

  • Strings of bright lights: Here's an excuse to take your Christmas lights out of storage and have some fun!
  • Mexican blankets: Use one as a tablecloth, hang one on a wall or drape them over your furniture.
  • Sombreros: Use as a table centerpiece, hang on the wall, or give one out to each guest to wear at the party.
  • Maracas and shakers: Display some colorful shakers and let guests add their own rhythm section to party music.
  • Paper flowers: Arrange them in a centerpiece or let guests wear them in their hair.
  • Bright streamers: Use them to saturate your party area with color.
  • A hanging piñata: Guests will enjoy the traditional Mexican craftsmanship of a piñata as well as all the goodies inside.

Your Cinco De Mayo Table Setting Ideas

To create an inviting table in keeping with the Cinco de Mayo spirit, try some of these table design ideas:

  • Bright tablecloth or table runner with Mexican colors or motifs
  • Mexican themed or colored glazed plates
  • Earthy woven mats under each plate
  • Sunflowers or tropical flowers in mason jars or clay pots for centerpieces
  • Woven serving baskets
  • Colorful cloth napkins
  • Cactus centerpiece
  • Using large margarita glasses for serving dishes or dip holders.

Cinco De Mayo Menu Ideas

Cinco de Mayo celebrations are generally relaxed and informal, so serving a buffet style meal rather than a formal sit-down helps keep things low key. To stay true to the Mexican theme, offer guests genuine Mexican beverages such as alcoholic and virgin margaritas, imported Mexican beers and tequila-based cocktails.

Your guests will love the flavor and fire of Mexican foods. Here are some traditional dishes you may want to include in your Cinco de Mayo menu:

  • Churros (Deep fried pastry strips rolled in sugar and cinnamon)
  • Tres leches (A buttery cake soaked in three kinds of milk)
  • Guacamole (A delicious avocado dip or spread, get recipes here)
  • Black bean soup
  • Fajitas (Grilled meat or vegetables rolled in a flour tortilla)
  • Tortilla soup
  • Flan (A Mexican caramel custard)
  • Enchiladas (A meat or cheese filling with spicy sauce, rolled into a corn tortilla)
  • Burritos (A flour tortilla encasing a filling of meat, cheese or beans)
  • Nachos (Corn chips topped with layers of cheese, beans, meats, sour cream and guacamole)
  • Salsa (A Mexican sauce, usually tomato based. Get recipes here.)
  • For more Mexican recipes, see Great Mexican Dinner Recipes.

Cinco De Mayo Party Games & Activities for Adults & Children

Keep guests entertained with fun activities and games for kids and adults:

  • Live music and dance: Hire a Mariachi, salsa, Tejano or Mexican folk band. For even more fun, bring in a Mexican dance instructor to teach your guests authentic Mexican dances.
  • Costumes: Dress in traditional Mexican clothing and have a costume contest. Some costume ideas include sombreros, colorful dresses and skirts, peasant blouses, Mexican blanket over the shoulder, Matador outfit or Mariachi outfit.
  • Piñata: Break open the piñata and enjoy all the candy inside.
  • Chili pepper game: Fill a jar with colorful chili peppers and have guest guess how many are inside. Have a nice prize for the winner.
  • Children's games: If you have kids at your party, teach them to make paper flowers, organize a Mexican hat relay or let them compete in a peso toss for prizes. You may be able to get some pesos from your local bank if they exchange foreign currency.

Fun Favors for Your Guests

Send your guests home with some nice mementos of your party. These fun favors will bring back fond memories for a long time:

  • Small, potted cactus plants
  • Sombreros
  • Painted maracas
  • Bouquets of carnations in the colors of the Mexican flag
  • Decorative jars of homemade salsa.

When your friends experience the vibrant colors, spicy tastes and lively, Mexican music of your Cinco de Mayo party, don't be surprised if they want to stay and dance till dawn.

Last Updated: May 3, 2012
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About Roberta Pescow Roberta Pescow holds a bachelor's degree in communications from City University of New York, Queens College and is a freelance writer and editor in the NJ area. The author of "A Life In The Service" and "A Monster's Tears," she enjoys writing informative articles, personal essays, fiction and music.  Roberta is a proud mother of two. Her other interests include fitness, photography, sculpture and meditation. She is a voracious reader and holds a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do. Roberta enjoys decorating her hectic, but happy home and garden in original and affordable ways.  

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