Mexico flag

Do you look forward to celebrating Cinco de Mayo each year? Like St. Patrick's Day, the holiday is an excuse to enjoy traditional ethnic food and drink, while also celebrating other aspects of the culture such as dress or music. You do not have to be Irish to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, and you do not have to be Mexican to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Despite being identified as an occasion to recognize Mexican patriotism and unity, the holiday happens to be celebrated by more people in the United States than in Mexico. Many people like to have Cinco de Mayo parties with music and food or simply go to a Mexican restaurant to enjoy their favorite dishes like enchiladas and tamales. However, while it is fun to participate in the celebrations, holidays such as Cinco de Mayo often can hold more significance when you understand their history.

Cinco de Mayo can be a great holiday for kids to celebrate, as well. If you or your kids do not already have a lot of background in or experience with Mexican culture, Cinco de Mayo is a great opportunity to teach them about it. Those who are old enough to understand the significance of May 5th can learn some important facts about the history of our neighbor to the south. (A common misconception is that Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexican independence. Actually, the date refers to the Battle of Puebla, where General Ignacio Zaragoza's troops defeated the French on May 5, 1862. Mexican Independence Day is celebrated on September 16th.)

Understanding the historical significance of a country's holiday can foster a greater appreciation for its people and for its culture. Kids can still have fun enjoying the holiday while learning to discover and respect another country's culture. For example, rather than thinking that a sombrero is just a big funny hat worn by a sleepy man having a siesta or riding a donkey, kids can learn all about Mexico's climate and the other reasons behind wearing traditional clothing items, including the sombrero. The key to holding their attention is to make learning fun for them. Here is where food comes in!

Mexican food is delicious and easy to prepare. You can adjust your recipes to suit individual tastes, especially since some children might not be used to spicy foods. Then again, do not underestimate their willingness to try new flavors, and do not simply assume that they will not like spicy food. After all, parents in many other cultures have been feeding their kids diverse "spicy" foods ever since they could begin eating solids.

The best way to teach kids about food is to involve them in the process of making it. You could learn how Mexicans traditionally make corn tortillas from scratch, and then you could pass that knowledge on to your kids. Using tortillas as a base, you can then make enchiladas, burritos, fajitas, nearly any main dish that you wish. Trying to make some of these recipes from scratch at home will prove much more valuable to their learning experience than simply driving to the nearest local Mexican restaurant.

While you are creating some Mexican dishes to eat, why not listen to some traditional music? Mariachi bands are another commonly recognized "symbol" of Mexican fiestas. However, Mexico is home to countless other types of music, and Cinco de Mayo is yet another opportunity to expose young people to many of the rich musical styles that are unique to Mexico. Whether you prefer slow, emotional ballads or fast modern pop tunes, anyone can learn to appreciate Mexico's diverse types of music. If your kids do not already know any Spanish, you could find a simple song to play for them and teach them some basic words.

If you need more teaching ideas, there are many cultural and educational resources online. Parent and teacher sites have printable coloring pages, word searches, and craft ideas for nearly every holiday, including Cinco de Mayo. There also are many activities available that involve learning how to count in Spanish. At home, you could always just use a blank piece of paper and demonstrate how to draw a Mexican flag.

It sounds simplistic, but the more we learn about different cultures and people, the more likely we are to respect each other as individuals and to resist forming stereotypes. Explaining symbols and the meanings behind cultural icons goes a long way in dispelling certain prejudices that people might have about another culture. Young children are especially "teachable." They are like sponges that can absorb and appreciate new experiences in a way that older people can no longer achieve. Now is a great time to teach them about the history and culture of Mexico while they are open to learning. As long as you make learning fun, they are bound to appreciate and remember your lessons.