Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican independence day -- that's actually coming up on Sept. 16, the date commemorating the 1810 call for Mexican independence. The festivities often start the night of Sept. 15 and continue throughout the next day with dancing, drinking, food, and merriment amid shouts of "Viva México" by people in full patriotic regalia. Falling at the end of summer, for those of us north of the border it's the perfect time for an outdoor party and an opportunity to learn about Mexican culture and the end of the Mexican War of Independence.
Elaborate and colorful decorations, often in the form of long strands of handmade paper art, are one of the most traditional elements of festivals and celebrations across Mexico. Youngsters in the household can recreate the vision of flags hanging in the streets by making and stringing paper flags around a house or in a classroom using Mexico's national colors: green, white, and red. Children may also want to try making a pinata, balloons, and paint or colored tissue paper. These bright decorations create a festive atmosphere as they are, but can also be filled with toys or candies for kids to smash open later.
The national anthem and folk songs ring out in Mexican communities around independence day, but partygoers will likely want to go beyond those and try Shazam's playlist of the country's current top 100 pop songs. For anyone needing a more traditional sound, the classic sounds of a Mariachi band convey passion, drama, and joy. Even as classic Mariachi music is easy to find, MTV Iggy recently found seven contemporary bands that make the tradition come to life. Various online services can stream songs for little or no cost (but with ads) to a computer, Internet-enabled stereo sytem, or smartphone attached to speakers.
The food of Mexico is enjoyed in many places around the world, and is one of the most budget-friendly. Cheapism has a menu of 16 Budget-Friendly Mexican Dishes, all of which cost less than $4 a serving, and included a three-course Mexican meal among its dinner party menus for less than $5 a person (recipes can be doubled to serve a dozen partygoers). Shopping at a local Mexican grocery store should yield extra savings.
Tequila is the nation's national spirit and has enjoyed a surge in popularity and quality, with many artisan and craft labels becoming widely available. While prices easily rival those of top-shelf single malts, there are still plenty of quality bottles under $30. Novices should note that tequila is made properly only with blue agave, which grows in the Tequila region in the state of Jalisco, making it like Champagne: Although there are many pretenders, the real stuff comes from one region. Micheladas are a refreshing and spicy cocktail of beer, lime, sauces, spices, peppers, and sometimes tomato or Clamato juice. There are countless variations, and countless recipes are available online.
You might want to start the party by calling out "Viva México!" This significant phrase is part of the Grito de Dolores, or Cry Of Dolores, that a priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla shouted in 1810 to launch Mexico's decade-long war of freedom from Spain. A version of the Grito -- the exact words of the full speech are unknown -- is recited each Sept. 16 by the president of Mexico in honor of the words spoken more than 200 years ago in Dolores, Guanajuato. Want to learn more about Mexican independence, achieved after more than 300 years of rule by Spanish invaders? A 2007 documentary called "Revolucion Mexicana" is available for streaming on Netflix. For those who would rather settle down with a great drama, ForeignFilms.com has a list of the best films of all time from Mexico, including work by Luis Buñuel, Alfonso Arau, and Alfonso Cuarón.