I scream. You scream. We all scream for Cinco de Mayo. Seriously, who doesn't love this most festive of fiestas? But get one thing straight: Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. Fact: May 5th commemorates the 1862 Battle of Puebla, when Mexico miraculously took down the invading French Army. It's not El Día de la Independencia (that's September 16th) but it is a pretty big deal. You don't have to be Mexican to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, either. In fact, it's actually observed by more Latinos in the U.S. than south of the border. No Hispanic heritage? No problema. On Cinco de Mayo, everyone's invited to the party.
Food & Drink
If you want to put on a spread, go for the whole enchilada. Comida Mexicana and its younger cousin Tex-Mex are some of the tastiest cuisines on the planet. To celebrate in authentic Puebla style, cocoa-based turkey con mole poblano is a must (we suggest premade mole since it's tricky to prepare). Other traditional recipes include chiles en nogada (chiles in walnut sauce) and flan (a rich caramel custard). Looking to serve something a little more familiar? You can't go wrong with fresh guacamole, tamales, enchiladas, flautas, burritos, nachos, chiles rellenos, quesadillas, rice and beans, and a popular Mexican street dish called elote en vaso (corn in a cup). Or keep it simple, señorita, with a fun build-your-own-taco bar. Even simpler: Cook up a big pot of chili and have each guest bring a Mexican dish. To drink? One word: Margaritas.
It's not a Cinco de Mayo party without Mexican music. So throw on a sombrero, blast some hot Latin tunes and get your dance on. And we're not just talking mariachi bands and salsa (but those are good, too). There's also Tejano (TexMex), banda (sounds like polka), Norteño, cumbia and more—all mucho fun to dance to. Live bands are best, but if dinero is short, just download some tracks and shake your maracas. Suggested playlist: Gipsy Kings, Los Lobos, Grupo Fantasma, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Marc Anthony, Tito Puente, Santana, Selena, Brave Combo, Gloria Estefan, Enrique Iglesias.
Once you have your menu planned, it's all about presentation. Showcase your culinary creations with tableware that flaunts true Mexican flair. Serve icy cold beverages—adult and otherwise—in chilled, chunky cobalt-rim glasses. Hand-painted Mexican dinnerware and serving bowls add spice to whatever you're dishing out. Multistripe table linens pop in vibrant caliente colors. And don't forget the centerpiece. Bright paper flowers in a vase or pitcher look great. Or get creative with an upside-down sombrero, lined and filled with cactus and other succulent plants. A simple serape or Mexican blanket dotted with tealights or lanterns is another way to go. Even a big bowl of colorful red, green and yellow peppers will do the trick. If you're thinking fun and bright, amigo, you're thinking Cinco.
Use the colors of the Mexican flag—green, white and red—anywhere and everywhere. (Easy way #1: Hang up a Mexican flag.) Hang a big map of Mexico. Hang piñatas or string multicolored papel picado (lacy paper cutouts) from the rafters. If the weather is warm, take the party outdoors and illuminate with string lights, paper lanterns or candles. Place oversized ceramic pots of hibiscus, bougainvillea, dahlias or any large, showy flowers around the patio or deck. Augment with bright paper flowers wherever you need an extra pop of color. Decorate yourself. Decorate the cat. The more festive, the merrier, the more Cinco de Mayo.
Your Cinco de Mayo bash will no doubt go down in history alongside the Battle of Puebla. Give them something to remember it by. It needn't be big or pricey—an inexpensive set of maracas, a mini-piñata, straw sombrero or goodie bag filled with pecan pralines, Mexican candies and jumping beans are just a few possibilities. After that, it's time to relax. The dishes can wait 'til mañana.