What No One Tells You About Cinco de Mayo

¡Hola, amigos! Coming straight out of Puebla, Mexico, I am extremely thrilled to unpack one of the most misunderstood holidays on the calendar: Cinco de Mayo.

What No One Tells You About Cinco de Mayo | Multicultural Kid Blogs
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Often mistaken for Mexican Independence Day, or an excuse simply to have an endless supply of margaritas, Cinco de Mayo is quite a different affair, with a very diverse meaning from Puebla to Portland. So, let’s get down to the real history of the day. First, let’s see how the celebrations for the holiday differ between Mexico and the USA. Second, why it really isn’t all about that famous battle back in 1862, as most people have come to think it is.

The True Significance of Cinco de Mayo

Every 5th of May, or “Cinco de Mayo,” represents the yearly celebration in Mexico of the Mexican army’s unexpected victory against French forces in Puebla on that day in the year 1862. It was quite an unlikely military victory. The probability of winning was not high. But with the victory came a great fillip to the morale of the Mexican fighters and the country in general.

Here in Puebla, the memory of that day takes over the parades, enactments, and speeches. Some people feel great pride and deep respect for the courage shown on that historic day. Step outside of Puebla, and you realize that Cinco de Mayo passes off in many ways, just like any other day. Si, es cierto—aside from my home city, Cinco de Mayo really isn’t a huge deal in other parts of Mexico. For instance, schools might mention it, but there’s no nationwide-felt party.

This lack of a Cinco de Mayo fiesta-feeling would be in sharp contrast with the rest of the world. For example, the United States seems to have morphed Cinco de Mayo into something altogether different:

A new type of holiday that celebrates Mexico as a whole…outside of Mexico!

Cinco de Mayo North of the Border

It’s now turned into a popular United States celebration of Mexican heritage and culture that actually transcends the Mexican-American populations. It’s a day filled with celebrations, boisterous parades, the blare of mariachi music in the streets, and yes, a lot of tequila and tacos.

While history may be lost on those who are mutes, the festive environment makes the day a powerful moment to display the rich tapestry of Mexican tradition and contributions to the cultural mosaic of the United States.

This is a kind of platform not only for fun, but for learning and interaction among one another with regard to the kind of diversity in Mexican culture. From the graceful movements of folklorico dance to the bold flavors of Mexican food, Cinco de Mayo in the U.S. centralizes on the living vibrancy and resilience of the community.

Bringing Mexican Culture to Kids

What do you learn from these cultural festivities? How do you bring them at home, rather in your heart, at the little hearts! Try any Mexican-themed activities to introduce children to ways that help teach them about the new growing meaning of Cinco de Mayo as a celebration of Mexican culture as a whole, while having a ton of fun.

I do have a bundle of activities that are all about Mexico in my Teachers Pay Teachers shop, but here’s a favourite one that is always a hit:

Make a piñata with your niños

Make a traditional piñata to bring everyone together and sing ‘Dale, dale, dale’. 

If a full-on traditional piñata seems like too much for this year, you can make instead a paper piñata. I do have a template for the DIY Paper Piñata Craft on my website Box of Ideas.

Cinco de Mayo Piñata Craft | Multicultural Kid Blogs
Image by Box of Ideas

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you make a traditional piñata:

Materials Needed:

  • Balloon
  • Newspaper
  • White glue or flour and water (for the paste)
  • Paintbrushes
  • Crepe paper or tissue paper in various colors
  • Scissors
  • String or rope
  • Candy and small toys (for filling the piñata)

Make a traditional Mexican Piñata:

Step 1: Prepare the Paste (In Spanish, we call the paste ‘Engrudo’)

Flour Paste: Mix one part flour to two parts water until you get a smooth, thin paste.

Glue Paste: Dilute white glue with an equal amount of water.

Step 2: Prepare the Base

Inflate a balloon to the desired size of your piñata.

Tear newspaper into strips about 1 inch wide and 6 inches long.

Step 3: Apply the Paper Mache

Dip the newspaper strips into the paste, removing excess paste by running the strips between your fingers.

Place the strips over the balloon, smoothing them down as you go.

Cover the balloon completely, leaving a small opening around the knot of the balloon.

Let the first layer dry completely (this may take a day). Then apply at least two more layers for durability, allowing each layer to dry thoroughly.

Step 4: Decorate the Piñata

Once the balloon and paper mache are completely dry, pop and remove the balloon.

Paint the piñata with a base color and let it dry.

Cut crepe paper or tissue paper into strips, then make fringes by cutting slits along one edge.

Glue the fringed strips around the piñata, starting from the bottom and working your way up to overlap the layers.

Step 5: Add the Final Touches

Create and attach decorations such as ears, horns, or whatever fits your piñata design using cardstock or leftover cardboard.

Paint any additional features or designs as desired.

Step 6: Fill and Hang the Piñata

Carefully cut a small flap near the top of your piñata.

Fill the piñata with candy, small toys, and other treats.

Close the flap and reinforce it with some tape.

Attach a strong string or rope around the piñata for hanging.

Step 7: Enjoy!

Hang the piñata during your celebration and let the kids have fun trying to break it open!

This activity not only allows for creative expression but also provides a hands-on way to explore Mexican culture.

Making piñatas initiate further discussions about other Mexican traditions and holidays where piñatas are a center-point. It is a fun, creative way to get your kids to learn more about and appreciate Mexican culture.

Plus, it’s a hit at any Cinco de Mayo party!

Conclusion

So, Cinco the Mayo is NOT about Mexico’s independence. In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is a day of commemoration of a battle in Puebla; today around the world May the fifth is a day grown to take on exuberant Mexican culture, especially in the United States.

Be it sipping margaritas, watching a parade, or making a Mexican craft like this Paper Plate Frida Kahlo, remember what an excellent opportunity Cinco de Mayo provides to delve into and really enjoy the fullness of Mexican tradition and history. Let’s make it a fun, teachable moment for everyone.

¡Viva México y feliz Cinco de Mayo!

For detailed how-to guides and fun-filled activities on making your very own piñata and others, be sure to check the rest of my bilingual educational activities at Box of Ideas.

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Rodrigo Macias is the teacher author behind Box of Ideas, a website full of educational activities for bilingual children.

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