Cinco de Mayo
Grade Level: 3rd-4th
Author: Jessica Shaw

Cinco de Mayo, May 5th, is a national holiday for Mexico--second only to September 16, Independence Day. It was on this day, in 1862, that a small group of poorly trained Mexican peasants, under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza, bravely and fiercely fought for their freedom against a regiment of 6,000 French soldiers under the command of Napoleon III.

Historical Background

"After Mexico gained it's independence from Spain in 1821, it faced internal power struggles that left it in a volatile state of rebellion and instability for years." (Internet: Pasmanick, 1992) In 1846, the Mexican government, under the dictator Santa Anna, went to war with the United States. As an outcome of that war, Mexico lost a large amount of land--the land we now know as Texas. In 1854, Juan Alvarez and his troops led a successful revolt to drive Santa Anna out of power. One of Alvarez's strongest supporters was a man by the name of Benito Juarez, a Zapotec Indian leader.

In 1855, Juarez became the minister of Justice under the new regime and issued two new controversial laws. One denied the right of the church and military courts to try civilian cases and the other made the sale and distribution of church lands legal. Many people disagreed with these laws and for three years a civil war raged between the two sides.

In 1861 Juarez took control of the capital, Mexico City, and put his new Constitution into effect. Not only had Juarez's laws split the country, they had caused the civil war that left Juarez in debt to Spain, England, and France. The three countries were concerned about the debt, so they held a meeting in London, at which Spain and Britain decided to waive the debt in exchange for military control of the Custom House in Vera Cruz. France did not agree to these terms and invaded Mexico in 1861 in hopes of defeating the country and disposing of Juarez.

The French troops--deemed among the best trained and equipped in the world--marched into the city of Puebla on May 5, 1862, expecting no resistance. The French army consisted of 6,000 men under the command of Marshal Lorencz. The French were met by an armed force of 2,000 peasants under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza. The Mexican guerilla forces successfully defended their positions and attacked and drove back the French forces.

Victory, however, was short lived. Within a year, France had successfully conquered Puebla and the rest of Mexico, and went on ruling there until 1867 when Juarez was once again restored to power. He ruled the country until his death in 1872.

Cinco de Mayo, therefore, does not celebrate Mexico's independence, rather it symbolizes "the right of the people to self determination and national sovereignty, and the ability of non-Europeans to defend those rights against modern military organizations." (Internet: Pasmanick, 1992). This important victory of the few over the many is very meaningful to Mexico, a country that had been defeated over and over before.

Today, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated by native Mexican (and American) people everywhere. In several towns in Mexico, on the fifth of May, along with many speeches and parades, the Battle of Puebla is elaborately re-enacted in a whole day dramatization. In America, Cinco de Mayo is taken as an opportunity to celebrate Hispanic culture in general, and is celebrated with huge fairs, which include Mexican singing, dancing, feasting, costumes, sports activities, fireworks, and entertainment. Mariachi bands play while dancers perform native Mexican dances such as the Mexican Hat Dance and the Raspa. Speeches and parades encompass a large part of the celebration too. These events are one way in which people celebrate the friendship of the United States and Mexico. This observance of the Cinco de Mayo victory is a special symbol for all Mexican people who celebrate their rights of freedom and liberty, honoring those who fought, against the odds, for these principles



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Dellosa, Inc.

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(p. 71).

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Martino, Gabriele. (1996) A (Very) Brief History of Cinco de Mayo. [On line]. Available: info/nogales history.html.

Pasmanick, P. (1992) El Barrio de La Mision-The Meaning of Cinco de Mayo. [On-line].


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the Core Curriculum
. Salt Lake City, UT: Utah State Office of Education. (p.45-56).

No author. (No date). Spring Multicultural Holidays: Cinco de Mayo resource guide.
Greensboro, NC: Carson-Dellosa Publishing Company, Inc.

Cinco de Mayo Celebration Box Guide. (1993). Lakeshore Learning Materials.


Fiesta Mexicana: Music from Around the World. Canada: Madacy Distribution, Inc.


* Students will recognize that countries have celebrations unique to them.

* Students will know why Cinco de Mayo is recognized as a national holiday in Mexico.

* Students will be able to recall facts from the events on May 5, 1862.

* Students will compare and contrast the opposing viewpoints of the Mexican and French

* Students will identify three celebration activities participated in during Cinco de Mayo and
understand their significance.

* Students will recognize that the United States, and the world, are made up of cultures other than their own.

* Students will recognize and be able to use various common Spanish words.

Time Allotment:

Approximately 4-5 class periods

Resources Needed

* maps (World, U.S., Mexico)
* tortilla ingredients (see Appendix)
* materials for sombreros (see Appendix)
* materials for paper flowers (see Appendix)
* beans, paper bags, and streamers for maracas
* Fiesta Mexicana tape
* pinata
* parent letter (see Appendix)
* member of a mariachi band
* yarn



A. Brainstorm: Ask students to brainstorm some holidays with which they are familiar and the activities that accompany these celebrations. Ask students if they know why we celebrate these holidays in the way we do (e.g., dyeing Easter eggs, and hanging stockings). Ask students if they know of any other holidays that they may not celebrate but have heard of. List as many holidays as the class can come up with on the board.

B. K-W-L Chart: Start a K-W-L chart on butcher paper in front of the class. Ask students what they already know about Cinco de Mayo and what they want to know. Have students start individual charts as well. Explain to them that they may use the things on the butcher paper and their own ideas. Tell them that every time they learn something new relating to Cinco de Mayo they should record it on their chart.

C. Mini-Lecture: Explain to students that all countries have celebrations unique to them. Tell children that they will be learning all about the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo. Ask if anyone has heard of Cinco de Mayo. (If someone has, have them share it with the class.) Ask if anyone knows what the words "Cinco de Mayo" mean in English. Provide children with information about the holiday (e.g., what it is, when it is, what it is a celebration of, etc.). Give children a visual representation of the ratio of French army to the Mexican peasants by calling six students up into one side and then two on the other side. Ask students if they think this ratio is equivalent and fair. Show children Mexico, France, England, and Spain on a world map. On a map of Mexico, show children the town of Pueblo. On a U.S. map, identify areas in which many of the citizens are of Mexican ancestry. (California, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Florida, New York.) Write these on the board.

D. Literature Integration: Read Fiesta! to the children focusing their attention on the different activities the people are participating in, and the emotions the people seem to be feeling. Encourage students to discuss the book aloud after it's read to them. Have students write a list comparing and contrasting the similarities and differences of Cinco de Mayo celebrations with our Thanksgiving or Fourth of July celebrations. See if students can figure out why Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July were the holidays chosen to compare Cinco de Mayo to (e.g. these are celebrations of thanks and pride in our country.)

E. Numbered Heads Together: Divide students into groups of five or six and then number off in groups. Give students papers with 5-6 questions on them relating to the Battle of Puebla. Tell the students to work together so everyone knows the answers and can explain them. Give the students time to work on the questions. Then call out a number and the student with that number will answer for the team orally. One person from each group will get to answer each time. The class will discuss each groups answer. (See appendix for suggested questions.)

F. Language Integration: Teach children some Spanish words relating to Cinco de Mayo. Talk about cognates. Write these words up on a piece of butcher paper in front of the class. Practice pronunciation and learn the meanings. Provide students with a list of these words. Have students pair up and practice pronouncing these words and using them (or inserting) them into English sentences. (e.g., "You are a good amigo.") Students can quiz each other for meaning as well. Tell children to be looking for new Spanish words all week as they're learning to add to the list. (See appendix for a list of suggested words.)

G. Guided Discussion/Simulation: Have the class sit in a circle and then toss a ball of yarn back and forth across the group, unraveling the yarn. There is no pattern to this, but make sure that everyone has at least one turn. When the ball has been completely unwound, have the students talk about the web they have in their hands. have them use describing words such as strong, unbreakable, etc. Write their words on a piece of butcher paper. Ask students to stand while still holding the web, and then ask a few to drop their part of the web. Ask the children to describe the strength and resiliency of the web now. It will be decidedly different. This activity visually shows that in any time of conflict the strength of the group lies in each individual participant working side by side with each other. When one side weakens, then the whole unit is weakened. Could this have been the reason that the band of peasants was victorious against all of the odds? Have a short discussion.
(Spring Multicultural Activities: Cinco de Mayo resource guide. Carson Dellosa.)

H. Writing Activity: Have students write in their journals. Choices: 1) write a story using their new Spanish vocabulary words, 2) write as if they are Mexican peasants before or after the battle--what are they feeling and doing, or 3) write about three of the activities that are included in the celebration of Cinco de Mayo and why these activities are done. (Eventually all students will write on all topics.)

I. Corners: Post the following at the front of the class:

These words were written shortly before May 5th, 1862.

Benito Juarez, in a proclamation to the Mexican people:

"The government of the republic will fulfill its duty to defend its independence, to repel foreign aggression, and accept the struggle to which it has been provoked, counting on the unanimous spirit of the Mexicans and on the fact that sooner or later the cause of rights and justice will triumph."

General Lorencz, to his government:

"We are so superior to the Mexicans in race, in organization, in discipline, in morality, and in refinement of sensibilities, that as of this moment, at the head of our 6,000 valiant soldiers, I am the master of Mexico."


Have students compare these two statements. Have cards posted in the corners of the room that say "Strongly Agree, Strongly Disagree, Agree, and Disagree". Pose the following statements one at a time:

1) Your ideals and values are the only things that determine your outcomes in all things.

2) It doesn't matter what the chances are: only your attitude matters.

3) It's better to be prepared and not sure of yourself then to be unprepared but sure of yourself.

Have students go to the corner that represents their view for each statement. Have the students in the same corners discuss why they feel the way they do and then one person from each corner will share the groups' ideas. Children may change their minds after talking to the group or listening to someone else's reasoning. After doing these questions, ask students the following three questions and have a small class discussion.

1) What sort of ideals and values does each man seem to have?

2) How could each man's attitudes have affected the outcome of the battle and the of
the war?

3) What man turned out to be right?
(Pasmanick, 1992--Internet source)

J. Hands-On: Remind students that pinatas are a big part of the celebration of Cinco de Mayo. Explain to students that pinatas originated in Italy and by the middle of the sixteenth century, the idea of the pinata (and many other Italian ideas and customes) had filtered into other countries such as Spain. In Spain the pinata began to be used for religious purposes such as the first Sunday of Lent. The breaking of the pinata was a very somber occasion. The Spanish explorers eventually carried the pinata to Mexico nearly 400 years ago. The pinata in Mexico continued to have religious significance but it was used for happy occasions as well (mostly at Christmas). Besides this difference, pinatas in Mexico began to be elaborately decorated unlike in the past. Eventually, pinatas were used for all festive occasions in Mexico and around the world. Their use has come to signify warmth, friendliness, and festiveness. Divide students into groups of 5 or 6. Explain that each group will be making a pinata for themselves to hit at during our culminating activity. (See appendix for instructions.)

K. Culmination: Vive la fiesta! Students will participate in a classroom fiesta. The room will be divided up into centers that each child will have a chance to go to. Centers will include the following activities:

Tortilla making/Tortilla eating contest
Making tissue paper flowers
Learning the "Raspa"
Listening to a real mariachi band member (if possible)
Making and decorating maracas (Beans in paper bags and decorate)
Making sombreros
Breaking the pinatas (groups from the day before will break their own.)

At the end of the fiesta, students will be asked to write a one page paper summarizing all that they have learned during the our Cinco de Mayo week.


Section regarding Cinco de Mayo in students journals will be assessed
Responses to discussion questions will be assessed
Responses to "guided discussion" and "corners" activities will be assessed
Individual K-W-L charts will be assessed
Students comparisons of holidays will be assessed
One page student summary will be assessed



Dear Parents,
Next week we will be learning about Cinco de Mayo to aid our understanding of cultural celebrations. Volunteers will be needed to help us make pinatas and to help guide centers during our Cinco de Mayo fiesta. Activities in the centers will include: making tortillas, making tissue paper flowers, breaking a pinata, and a dance center among others. Children will rotate to each center throughout the fiesta. If you would be interested in volunteering, please get in touch with me by Wednesday of this week. Thank you for your cooperation and help.

Jessica Shaw

Questions for Discussion (numbered heads)

1) What do you think motivated the group of Mexican peasants to fight against the superior forces of the of the French soldiers?
2) Do you know of anyone else who would defend their rights this way?
Do you believe that it is sometimes the best way to solve a problem?
3) What made Napoleon III think he could conquer the Mexicans and control the people?
Do you think he did it for the people of France or for himself?
4) Why do you think it's important to celebrate this holiday, even though the French
eventually conquered Mexico and ruled for a few years?
5) Do you think women should have the right to fight in battle? Explain.
(Spring Multicultural Activities: Cinco de Mayo resource guide. Carson Dellosa.)


Materials: A balloon, newspaper strips, wheat paste, squares and strips of colorful tissue paper, glue, tape, knife, one foot of wire, margarine tub lids, pencil, and construction paper.

1. Prepare wheat paste for papier-mache by mixing flour and water to a consistency slightly thinner than cake batter. Cover the entire surface of an inflated balloon with strips of newspaper dipped into the paste mixture. Allow to dry completely.
2. Cut five half circles from construction paper and bend to form cones. Attach these cones to the pinata with tape.
3. Pour a moderate amount of glue on a margarine tub lid. Scrunch squares of tissue paper around the eraser of a pencil. Using the pencil, dip the scrunched square into the glue and press on the pinata. Cover the entire pinata with tissue paper squares. Attach strips of tissue paper as streamers.
4. Use the knife to cut out a small piece of the pinata. Fill the pinata with candy, stickers, or other surprises. Attach one end of the wire to either side of the opening, then replace the small piece and glue back in place.
5. Hang the pinata for a decoration or tie on a string or rope to play the pinata-breaking game.
(Lakeshore Learning Materials, 1993)



Materials: Two 45" square pieces of butcher paper or wallpaper for each child, string, newspapers, wheat paste, tempura paint, brushes, scissors, and sequins.

1. Prepare wheat paste for papier-mache by mixing flour and water to a consistency slightly thinner than cake batter.
2. Cover one square of butcher paper with a thin layer of the mixture and press it together with the other paper square.
3. While the squares are still damp, place them on a child's head and shape the crown of the sombrero.
4. Secure the base of the crown around the child's head with the string.
5. Remove the sombrero from the child's head, stuff the crown with newspaper and lay it on a flat surface. Smooth out the brim, trim off the corners and turn the brim up at the edges. Let dry completely.
6. Decorate sombreros with paint and sequins if desired.
(Lakeshore Materials, 1993)



2 1/2 cups corn tortilla mix
1 cup water
2 teaspoons oil

Also: Electric skillet, fork, spatula, knife, wax paper, and a clean dish towel.

1. Mix the tortilla mix with just enough water to make the dough stiff enough to roll into a large ball.
2. Divide the dough into many small balls.
3. Flatten the small balls with hands on squares of wax paper and press evenly flat to about
1/4" thickness.
4. Flip tortilla off wax paper onto the lightly oiled electric skillet. Cook for 10 seconds on
one side, flip over and cook for one minute on the other side, then flip again and cook
for 20 seconds more.
5. Remove tortillas from the skillet and wrap them in the dish towel to keep them warm.
Lightly spread tortillas with butter and eat.
(Lakeshore Materials, 1993)


Tissue Paper Flowers

Use 6 by 12-inch rectangles of various colors of tissue paper. Pinch the short edges of a rectangle together in the middle and place a 2-inch square of contrasting colored tissue paper on top. Twist the end of a pipe cleaner around the two pieces and fluff out the tissue to make petals.
(McKinnon, 1989)


La Raspa

Separate children into pairs and arrange them in a large open circle. There are two sets of steps, one set for the music preceding the chorus and the second set to follow during the chorus.

Set One:
1. First Count--Jump up in place and put your right foot forward with toes
pointing out.
2. Second Count--Jump up in place again, putting left foot forward.
3. Third Count--Jump up in place again, putting right foot forward.
4. Fourth Count--Stay put, don't move!
5. Repeat until chorus begins.

Set Two:
1. The pairs of children link right elbows and skip around each other. this lasts
for eight counts.
2. Now reverse for eight counts.
3. Continue until the chorus ends and then repeat La Raspa steps in set one.
(Lakeshore Materials, 1993)


Spanish Words

?Como estas?
How are you?
Muy bien
Very well
Por favor
Thank you
De nada
You're welcome
fuegos artificiales

Additional Activiities:

1) Invite a native Mexican to talk to the class about his/her celebration customs for Cinco de Mayo.
2) Have students get in small groups and reenact the Battle of Puebla.
3) Have students make up their own variation to the Raspa.
4) Play concentration and bingo with Spanish word cards.
5) Write a class book about Cinco de Mayo.
6) Tell students that Benito Juarez has been called the "Abraham Lincoln of Mexico." Have them write a paragraph explaining why.
7) Build a topographical map of Mexico to explore its diverse land of deserts, mountains,
peninsulas, etc.

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