Cinco de Mayo Activities That Celebrate Real Culture
Inside: A collection of Cinco de Mayo activities and lessons for home or school.
Cinco de Mayo is a weird day if you’re a Spanish teacher. On the one hand, you might recoil at the mass production of stereotypes: sombreros, margaritas, and moustaches will undoubtedly abound May 5th.
If you choose not to teach about Cinco de Mayo, I get it and respect it. There are many other cultural topics to dive into with your Spanish students!
On the other, hand, there’s a huge interest in the day– Cinco de Mayo is only getting bigger each year in the United States.
How about using the day to learn about Mexican culture beyond tacos and maracas? (You can make sure your students understand it’s not Mexico’s independence day, too. That’s September 16.)
Related: What’s So Bad About a Sombrero Selfie?
1. Why is it Celebrated in the U.S.?
2. Six Cinco de May Activities
3. Cinco de Mayo Preschool and Elementary Lesson Ideas
4. Cinco de Mayo Secondary Lesson Ideas
5. Cinco de Mayo Crafts for Kids
6. Classic Mexican Songs to Know
7. The Best Videos for Learning About Cinco de Mayo
8. The Real Story of Cinco de Mayo (The Battle of Puebla)
Why is Cinco de Mayo Celebrated in the United States?
Cinco de May– the 5th of May– commemorates the Battle of Puebla in 1862, between Mexico and France.
The explanation as to why Cinco de Mayo is celebrated so widely in the U.S. is a bit muddied. Some speculate the reasons go back to California during the war with France, the Chicano Power movement in the 60’s, or beer companies that hijacked the holiday in the 80’s. In some places, Latinos are proactively planning events and naming it “Semana de la Raza.”
While the holiday may not be a big deal in Mexico–outside of Puebla, maybe– I think it makes sense to acknowledge the day within U.S. classrooms. Many Mexicans here have taken up the custom of celebrating Cinco de Mayo as a chance to celebrate their heritage and home country, with large festivals in states like Texas.
If you’re unsure of the history behind the day or why it matter how we celebrate, I recommend reading these articles:
- Cinco de Mayo Myths and Facts
- Re-thinking Cinco de Mayo
- Why I Celebrate Cinco de Mayo from Fun for Spanish Teachers
6 Cinco de Mayo Activities
Here are ideas for celebrating in a meaningful way!
1. Enjoy some Mexican music.
Music is an integral part of Mexican culture, and there’s a variety of genres you can enjoy! Here are some of the top artists to try out:
- Juan Gabriel (a mix of mariachi music, ballads, ranchera, and pop)
- Selena Quintanilla (the “Queen of Tejano Music”, an infusion of cumbia, salsa, rock, and pop)
- Vicente Fernandez (the “King of Ranchera Music”)
- Thalía (Latin pop)
- Marco Antonio Solís (rancheras, ballads)
- Julieta Venegas (pop/rock)
- Carlos Santana (rock)
- Los Tigres del Norte (norteño music)
2. Do a craft to learn about Mexican culture.
The classic Cinco de Mayo crafts you’ll often see include ideas like making maracas or coloring pictures of Chile peppers and cacti. How about diving into some culture you or your kinds might not know about? Here are some ideas:
- Make Papel Picado out of tissue paper
- Print and color or decorate the Mexican flag
- Create a portrait inspired by Frida Kahlo
(or grab my free printable coloring pages)
- Make a paper mache piñata
3. Learn some Spanish!
Here are some phrases to get started:
- Hola – Hello
- Buenos días – Good morning
- Buenas tardes – Good afternoon
- Buenas noches – Good evening/night
- ¿Cómo estás? – How are you?
- Estoy bien, gracias – I’m fine, thank you.
- ¿Cómo te llamas? – What’s your name?
- Me llamo… – My name is…
- Mucho gusto – Nice to meet you.
- Adiós – Goodbye
- Por favor – Please
- Gracias – Thank you
- De nada – You’re welcome
Now, those are pretty commonly known phrases. If you want to take it up a notch, check out this list of Spanish Learning Apps!
4. Make or enjoy some authentic Mexican food.
If you’ve only tried Tex-Mex versions like flour burritos stuffed with ground beef, cheese, lettuce, and sour cream, it’s time to expand your horizons!
Here are some famous Mexican dishes to try out:
- Tacos al pastor (porktacos) with fresh corn tortillas
- Flan (a sweet custard-type dessert)
- Tres Leches (a cake made with three kinds of milk)
- Pozole (soup made with hominy corn)
- Elote (corn on the cob with chili powder or other toppings)
- Mole poblano
- Pico del Gallo (a yummy dip made of tomatoes, onions, avocados, and other ingredients)
This is a great time to support local businesses that serve authentic Mexican food!
5. Make some authentic decorations.
If you are going to host a fiesta, think of ways to educate your guests on Mexico. Here are some decorations just for that!
- Papel Picado
Papel picado is common for real Mexican holidays like Dia de Muertos and other celebrations!)
- Mexican geography
This could include the Mexican flag and maps of Mexico
- Paper tissue flowers
- Mexican art
You could feature works by famous artists such as Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Carlos Mérida.
6. Watch a Mexican movie.
Immerse yourself in Mexican cinema by discovering a classic or new movie. Here are some of the best Mexican movies (:
Of course we have to include this Pixar hit for families! Learn all about Day of the Dead while you watch, as well.
Try a movie starring Cantinflas, the legendary 20th century Mexican actor, for a classic slapstick film.
- Amores Perros
This is a gritty movie from the year 2000, starring Gael García Bernal and nominated for an Oscar.
This is a newer Mexican drama that won an Oscar.
- Instructions Not Included
If you’re in the mood for a comedy, this is a funny and heartwarming movie.
PreschooL and Elementary Lesson Ideas
Here are some resources for studying Cinco de Mayo with students:
1. Learn About Mexico
2. Learn About Music
- Print these free coloring pages to learn about the tradition of Mariachi music, along with a printable word search.
World Music with Daria has coloring pages for trumpets and other instruments now.
3. Learn About Frida Kahlo
- Frida Kahlo Activities and Lessons for All Ages
- Free printable Frida Kahlo Coloring Pages
4. Learn about the Battle or City of Puebla
- Here is free paragraph and puzzle about the city of Puebla (in English).
- This is a two-page reading passage and coloring glyph with comprehension questions (English).
5. Learn Facts About Cinco de Mayo
- Here is a free activity pack for kids to read and learn about Cinco de Mayo (English, 2nd – 5th grade).
- Another free reading with activities for upper elementary and up (English, 4th – 8th grade).
Cinco de Mayo Secondary Lessons
Here are some free lesson aids and printables:
1. Teach About the Meaning of Cinco de Mayo (and bust some myths)
- Cinco de Mayo Interactive Google Slides (Intermediate-Low in Spanish)
This a really nice set of free slides for learning the true context of Cinco de Mayo.
- Cinco de Mayo Jigsaw Puzzle from The Comprehensible Classroom (reviews history and facts)
- Cinco de Mayo Jigsaw Puzzle freebie from TpT
- Newsela Article in Spanish for Students on Cinco de Mayo
- Compare/contrast St. Patrick’s Day with Cinco de Mayo and how the two holidays interact with immigration, pride in one’s roots and history, and commercialization.
2. Highlight Focus on Authentic Mexican Culture
Choose to highlight authentic Mexican culture in general. If you do this, you can study how Cinco de Mayo was latched onto by Chicano activists in the 60’s, and has become a time to celebrate Mexican heritage (or even Latino in general).
- 10 Misconceptions about Spanish Language and its Speakers PPT from Spanish Plans
- Los platillos que realmente habría que comer el Cinco de Mayo (Newsela Article)
- Learn a traditional dance, such as el Jarabe Tapatio (Mexican Hat Dance).
- Study and discuss the evolution of Mexican food in the U.S., and find examples of authentic dishes. If you live in an area with food trucks that offer authentic food, bring one to school for an in-school Spanish class field trip.
3. Learn about La Batalla de Puebla.
- I have a bunch of videos below that introduce the battle and it’s significance
CINCO DE MAYO CRAFTS FOR KIDS
If you choose to use Cinco de Mayo as a way to celebrate the best of Mexican culture, here are some printables and crafts that get beyond sombreros and stay more in touch with actual culture and history.
Free mini-book about Mexico from Fun for Spanish Teachers
8 Kid-Friendly Cinco de Mayo Activities from Kid World Citizen
Frida Kahlo Activities and Free Printables for All Ages
Folk Art: Amate Painting from Kid World Citizen
Make Paper Plate Masks from Jumpstart
Learn about the Mexican Flag from Kid World Citizen
Mexican Inspired Yarn Art from Education.com
Make Ojos de Dios from Be Brave Keep Going
Mexican Tooling Art from KinderArt
Make tissue paper flowers:
Make papel picado:
Classic Mexican Songs
May is the perfect month to highlight some authentic Mexican songs. While the rest of the U.S is eating chips and salsa (and thinking they’re celebrating Mexico’s independence), your students can highlight rich Mexican music with deep cultural roots. There are a TON of good songs; here are a few classics I love.
Los Caminos de la Vida
México Querido y Lindo
Como La Flor
Cinco de Mayo Videos in Spanish
Here are a variety of videos that explain the story behind the Battle of Puebla and how the holiday has grown into what it is now, both in Spanish and English.
5 de Mayo (Battle of Puebla) Batalla de Puebla
Conoce la Historia de la Batalla del 5 de Mayo en Puebla
Historia de la Batalla de Puebla
Batalla de Puebla para Niños
Cinco de Mayo Videos in English
The Real History of the Cinco de Mayo
Ask History: Cinco de Mayo
Overview of Cinco de Mayo
What Cinco de Mayo is All About
Mexican Culture in the US
What is the History Behind Cinco de Mayo?
Cinco de Mayo and the Battle of Puebla are related, but they are not exactly the same thing. The Battle of Puebla took place on May 5, 1862, in Puebla, Mexico. It was fought between the Mexican army and the French army.
At the time, France was ruled by Napoleon III. Mexico’s president Benito Juárez had defaulted on debt payments to France, and in response, France sent troops to invade Mexico.
The Mexican army, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, fought back and won the battle. The Battle of Puebla was important because it showed that a smaller army could defeat a larger one, and it gave hope to the Mexican people.
Today, May 5th is celebrated as Cinco de Mayo in parts of Mexico and the United States to commemorate this important victory. It is not a national holiday, but it is becoming a widely recognized celebration of Mexican-American culture.
Is Cinco de Mayo Mexico’s Independence Day?
No, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day. Mexico’s Independence Day is celebrated on September 16th and commemorates the start of Mexico’s war for independence from Spain in 1810.
Join the newsletter
Want to stay in touch and hear from me weekly?
Sign up now and you'll get this free game set.
Excellent information. Thank you for sharing!
HI, Thank you so much for all the resources. I am a big fun of you and your work. I just wanted to let you know the song “Los caminos de la vida ” by Los Diablitos, is not a traditional Mexican song, it’s a traditional Vallenato, Colombian song 😉