Cinco de Mayo is upon us — but before you use it as an excuse to overdo it on the margaritas, it's important to understand the real meaning behind the holiday. Long confused as Mexico's Independence Day, the date actually marks the Mexican army's victory over the French during the Battle of Puebla, which took place May 5, 1862 during the Franco-Mexican War.
Today, the date has become a celebration of Mexico's rich culture among those here in the U.S. Here, we've curated enticing Mexican recipes and authentic décor ideas that pay homage to the Central-American country's vibrant traditions and flavors. Ready to go beyond the stereotypical margaritas-and-tacos festivities? Keep reading below.
Beaded Watermelon Skewers
Watermelon with crumbled cotija cheese and Maldon salt becomes a refreshing appetizer with a perfect sweet-meets-savory balance. Camille Styles' beaded watermelon skewers, dressed up with colorful beads, are as festive as they are delicious.
Spicy Grapefruit Margarita
Making margaritas is a cinch, so step up your game with this spicy grapefruit margarita from Half-Baked Harvest. Made with cayenne simple syrup, grapefruit, and a salt or spice rub, it's not your average marg—and it'll have your friends talking for weeks.
These corn dough mushroom molotes are savory, mouthwatering snacks filled with sautéed mushrooms, roasted green chilies, and Oaxaca cheese. Wrap these mouthwatering hand pies in parchment paper for easy grabbing.
An authentic Mexican treat, the churro is now being reinvented in bite form and drizzled with warm chocolate sauce. Once you pop these churro bites, you just won't be able to stop.
Tres Leches Cake With Coconut Chantilly Frosting
A light, airy cake soaked in a mixture of heavy cream, evaporated milk, and sweetened condensed milk, tres leches cake is a staple in Mexico. This adaptation, made with coconut chantilly frosting, has a bit more flavor depth—and it's to die for.
Papel Picado Banners
The go-to décor for every festive occasion in Mexico, these elaborately cut banners are the easiest way to infuse some traditional folk spirit into your atmosphere. You can order some from Etsy or try your hand at a DIY project. We also love the idea of using paper-punching tools to easily create these colorful banners.
Mini Piñata Place Cards
Set your table with adorable miniature piñatas and you're guaranteed to make your guests smile. We'd love to use these little guys as place card holders for each setting.
Bright striped serapes, or Mexican blankets, make the perfect tablecloths for a Cinco de Mayo fiesta. Keep a few extras on hand to keep your guests warm when the sun goes down.
Set out small potted cacti in lieu of flowers, and make the arranging a little easier on yourself. Instead of a basic terra-cotta pot, place yours in a bright salsa or enchilada sauce can for a nod to the cuisine that's not only bright and cheerful but also affordable! Let guests each take one home as a memorable keepsake.
Take a load off and let your guests do some of the heavy lifting by creating a "taco stall" in your home. You don't have to go out and built a plywood stall like the one shown here; just creating a festive taco station somewhere in your home will create an activity for your guests and add to the allure of the atmosphere.
Want more food inspiration for the occasion? We have six crazy-good recipes to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.
This story was originally published on April 30, 2014, and has since been updated.