How to Throw a Mexican Fiesta for Cinco de Mayo

A goodie-filled pinata, a spin on margaritas and a do-it-yourself taco bar will ensure your party is full of Mexican flair

Cinco de Mayo is the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, in which a group of 4,000 ragtag Mexican soldiers fought and defeated a formidable army of twice as many French soldiers. I suspect celebrating the holiday has gained popularity because it’s a great excuse to eat tacos and drink margaritas. However, Cinco de Mayo is also a day to celebrate the underdog -- when a brave band of Mexican soldiers overthrew a much stronger and better-organized occupational army, it was nothing short of miraculous. And who doesn’t love to root for the underdog?

For a Cinco de Mayo fete, you can keep the drinks list short and sweet: Serve Mexican beers (I like Pacifico and Negra Modelo) and margaritas. For a spin on the classic marg, try adding pomegranate juice to the mix (see this margarita recipe) -- it’ll give your drink a bold hue and a healthy dose of antioxidants. Buy about four times as many limes as you think you’ll need -- trust me, they disappear quickly!

Opt for Easy Apps
Chips, salsa and guacamole are the perfect appetizers for any Mexican meal. Don’t be ashamed to rely on store-bought sauces: I like to mash two whole avocados, about a 1/4 cup of diced onions and some fresh lime juice into a container of store-bought guacamole. A jar of salsa gets a similar treatment with a few chopped cherry tomatoes and freshly diced onions. For chips, I like both white and blue corn chips.

Make a Do-It-Yourself Dinner
For the main meal, I set up a DIY taco bar. For the buffet, make a quick chicken taco filling and set out bowls of toppings for guests to build their own tacos. You can also serve beef empanadas, a fresh green salad, rice and a pot of black beans. Dress up plain white rice with freshly chopped cilantro and scallions; black beans can get a squeeze of fresh lime juice and a sprinkling of cilantro.

Say “Hola” to Bright Colors
You don’t need to break the bank to decorate your pad for Cinco de Mayo. Embrace a grade school craft and make dozens of tissue paper and pipe cleaner flowers in bright, bold colors -- the paper blooms won’t fade no matter how high the heat rises at your fiesta. Bowls of citrus fruit and a couple of potted cacti will add to the ambiance. You’ll get extra points from your guests for draping your doorways in colored streamers.

Mix up Some Mariachi Music
If you don’t have an extensive collection of Mexican tunes (who does?), don’t worry. My secret weapon for theme-party background music is Pandora, the online radio station. You can select a “Mexican” station from the genre music menu, or build your own by seeding a new station with south-of-the-border artists.

A Pinata, Por Favor
No Cinco de Mayo party would be complete without a pinata. Stuff your papier-mache creation full of tiny treats. You can opt for innocent items like candy and toys, or make it a grown-up gag with plastic airplane-size bottles of booze, packets of aspirin and scratch-off lottery tickets. Just be sure to string that baby up outside where there’s no danger of breaking surrounding objects.

Laura Fenton is a Brooklyn-based writer whose work has appeared in many publications, including Country Living, Family Circle and Good Housekeeping. She is also the author of The Little House In The City.

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