Mexican-Spanish Culture: Celebrating Cinco de Mayo

May/02/2021 / by Melanie Fourie

Cinco de Mayo is synonymous with extravagant fiestas celebrated in Mexico and the United States. Observed annually on 5th May as the name ‘Cinco de Mayo’ translates, it marks the day the outnumbered Mexican army defeated France at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. The day is ushered in with ethnic pride as revelers join in the fun with fairs, carnivals, and flamboyant floats. Overflowing tequila, scrumptious Mexican cuisine, and folklore dancing form part of the celebrations too. Even though the occasion is traditionally commemorated by Spanish diaspora, everyone is welcome to celebrate it. Here’s a bit more on how it’s done.

Auspicious Parades

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Members of a Mariachi band

Cinco de Mayo parades are primarily celebrated in the Mexican state of Puebla where the actual battle took place. You’ll find an array of military marchers, civilians, and youth attending. The military pays homage to the patriots who sacrificed their lives for Mexico.

Parades are carefully orchestrated to represent rich Mexican heritage and the relevance of the battle. Participants also usually practice for months prior to the event. Post marching, the military engages in gun salutes and brandishing the Mexican flag, before making way for an array of colorful floats.

The Festival Continues…

The fiesta does not stop there though. Vendors erect stalls where you can buy serapes, traditional crafts, festive foods, and sombreros. Partying ensues with folklore dancing and live music, enjoyed by people dressed up in traditional gear.

Folk dancing forms an integral part of Mexican culture on this day. Some of the most popular dance types include the Jarabe Tapatio, also often referred to as the Mexican hat dance. It’s considered to be Mexico’s official dance, and was historically a courting dance performed by a young man trying to woo a senorita.

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Mexican folk dancers colorfully dressed for a Cinco de Mayo fiesta

Women are clad in vibrant, floor length skirts and flouncy blouses, while men take to the dance scene in cowboy suits, boots, and linen shirts. Dancing is also often accompanied by drumming and flute players. Other popular traditional dances performed include the Son Jarocho and the Concheros. Live music bands abound during Cinco de Mayo fiestas too, echoing infectious traditional music genres like the Mariachi, Ranchera, Mexican cumbia, and Canto Nuevo.

Authentic Mexican Cuisine and Drink

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Patrons enjoy various cocktails during celebrations

Notwithstanding margaritas, tequila, and nachos, there are an array of traditional dishes and drinks people can enjoy on this day. Pozole is a celebratory soup that dates back to the era of the Aztecs offering some of Mexico’s traditional flavors. Revelers can also enjoy chilaquiles, a decadent dish packed with tortillas decked with raw onions, crema, and a bit of queso.

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Tacos with salsa, a popular Mexican food

Some may also relish licuados, a drink with an indulgent evaporated milk base, crammed with a variety of fruits. Other favorites include flautas. These are fried, rolled tacos with meat fillings decked with queso fresco and salsa. Tamales are another hot favorite, literally speaking! You can also cook this in a banana leaf or corn husk, or bake it as tiny casseroles. Other food to be savored here are esquites and elotes. These delicacies are made from grilled corn favored with lime, queso, cilantro, and chili.

Not everyone celebrates Cinco de Mayo with alcoholic drinks. Some non-alcoholic Mexican drinks include horchata, which is essentially cinnamon and vanilla-flavored rice water. One can also enjoy tejuino, a cold drink derived from fermented corn dough and piloncillo, topped with shavings of lemon ice. Another popular Mexican drink is tepache, made from fermented fruit or a fruit of choice like guavas or oranges. This is blended with cinnamon and piloncillo before drinking. Then there’s the ever popular beverage tuba! This delicious drink is a mouth-watering concoction of nuts, apples, and coconut.