Cinco de Mayo, May 5th, is a Mexican-American holiday celebrated in the southwestern states and in U.S. cities with large Mexican-American populations. It's a much bigger holiday in the United States than in Mexico. Cinco de Mayo commemorates a surprise victory of the Mexican Army led by Benito JuÃ¡rez over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Sometimes we confuse this special day with Mexican Independence Day, which is celebrated throughout Mexico on September 16.
Read on for easy ways to celebrate Cinco de Mayo at your school.
Things to Make
1. Flags — According to Mexican legend, Aztec leaders were told by the gods that they should build their city, Tenochtitlan, where they saw an eagle sitting on a nopal cactus with a snake in its beak. Here is a flag your students can color.
2. Maps of Mexico — On your students' maps it's important to locate Mexico City and Puebla, which is near Mexico City. My favorite maps are large, desktop-size maps from Maps for the Classroom. For independent learners, you can set up Step-by-Step Mapping at a center. These maps are time-consuming so you may want your students to work in pairs. The finished maps are beautiful, especially when laminated.
3. Maracas — Papier-mÃ¢chÃ© maracas add something special to a parade. If you plan to parade around your classroom or the school playground, you can make papier-mÃ¢chÃ© maracas easily. Papier-mÃ¢chÃ© needs time to dry, so start about one week ahead of time.
Photo: A huge Mexican flag flies over the zÃ³calo, or town square, of Mexico City.
4. Tissue paper flowers arranged in jars and vases will brighten your classroom and add a festive touch. You'll need tissue paper, pipe cleaners, scissors, and recycled glass jars. This is an easy project, but you might want to invite a parent to help you.
Books to Read
Cinco de Mayo by Mary Dodson Wade, from Rookie Read-About Holidays series, is simple, easy reading, appropriate for 1st and 2nd graders.
Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull is a biography of the Mexican-American migrant farm worker, civil rights activist, and founder of the United Farm Workers union, Cesar Chavez. The illustrations are fabulous!
The Lady of Guadalupe by Tomie de Paola tells the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico. You'll want to read the story as a way to understand Mexican culture and history. This story, which dates from 1513, involves a miraculous appearance to a peasant and a religious relic that is still preserved and displayed at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The Roman Catholic Church used the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe to convert native peoples to Christianity. Here's a printable coloring page to go with this book.
Things to Do
1. Mariachi music and parade — Search iTunes or websites for mariachi music. Students can play their maracas along with the music. Mariachi music makes great dancing or marching music for a parade!
2. Traditional Mexican food — There aren't any special foods for Cinco de Mayo, but your students might enjoy a simple snack like guacamole or salsa with chips.
For more adventurous cooks, here is a recipe for sopes, a small, soft, thick tortilla served with thinly sliced or shredded beef, seafood, or, for vegetarians, beans and cheese.
Depending on where you live, you may be able to find Mexican candy in flavors like tamarindo.
Cajeta, a goat's milk caramel, can be purchased as lollipops or as a thick syrup to top vanilla ice cream.
Holidays like Cinco de Mayo are an ideal time to include Mexican-American parents and grandparents in food preparation and party planning.