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Viva Piñata!

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with Your Family.

The tradition

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the victory of the historical battle of 1862 between Mexico and France. This holiday is a symbol of Mexican pride and unity and is centered on friends, family and fiestas; it is also a great time to share a different culture with your children.

While it is commemorated on one day, May 5, many people celebrate for an entire weekend, or even a full week. Cinco de Mayo parties are full of música (music), baile (dancing), comida (food) and alegría (joy), with the Mexican people celebrating their freedom and togetherness. With the current Dora and Diego trend, Spanish has become a part of childhood for many little chicos and chicas. Why not make it an even bigger part while teaching them some Mexican traditions? This 5th of May, join in the celebration with these ideas that are sure to get the fiesta underway!

The menu

Put your own twist on some traditional Mexican comida (food) for the fiesta. Serve nachos, piled high with cooked ground-beef, refried beans and layers of cheese. Make a guacamole dip and a mild spicy salsa to put on the side and you have an appetizer sure to make los niños (the kids) muy feliz (very happy).

Follow this with a favorite in my household: chicken quesadillas (pronounced kay-sa-dee-yas). They are simple to make and the addition of my secret ingredient, cranberry sauce, makes them appealing to even the littlest ones.

Start with large tortilla shells, lay them flat and spread a tablespoon of cranberry sauce on half of the top side. Next, sprinkle shredded cheese over the sauce; add small bits of cooked chicken, you can vary the spiciness of the chicken depending on taste. Fold the tortilla in half so it resembles a half circle. Place it on a non-stick frying pan at a medium temperature and cook lightly, flipping carefully half-way through. Cook them for about three to five minutes per side, just enough to melt the cheese and lightly brown the tortilla. Delicious!

For postre (dessert), try making cherry empanadas. These are also quite easy to prepare and make a great addition to your Mexican fiesta. Use more of the same tortilla shells that you used for the quesadillas; again, lay them on a flat surface. You should place about three tablespoons of canned cherry pie filling (or try sliced apples and the rest of the cranberry sauce from above) directly in the middle of the tortilla, about one-third of the way up from the bottom. Roll it up burrito-style, tucking the ends inside and place in a small amount of cooking oil in a non-stick frying pan. Cook for about three minutes per side and remove, and then roll in cinnamon and sugar immediately. Add non-alcoholic margaritas or some bright red fruit punch to drink with cut-up bits of pineapple or other fruit in it. Serve it in colorful plastic cups and dish up the food on brightly colored plastic plates.

For fun

Piñatas can be very elaborate or very simple, but they are always fun. Buy one to hang up in the yard, but make sure to buy candy to fill it up, as they do not come pre-filled. Fashion a blindfold and a small stick for breaking open the piñata. Stand back and let the kids go wild. Look in the party supplies section of a store for yours, but if you cannot find one, you can make your own simple one using a cereal box. You can get the kids involved in the project as well. Cover the box with colorful construction paper and decorate it with Mexican pictures, a cactus, burro, Chihuahua, chilli peppers or a sombrero.

Use the open end of the cereal box as the bottom of the piñata. Fill the box with candy or little toys from the dollar store. Wrap a wire coat hanger in yarn or ribbon. Use strong packing tape to attach the hanger to the closed end of the piñata. Attach it securely so that it does not come off the box.

Instead of hitting this with a stick, you will use strings that are approximately 30 centimetres long as pulls. Make sure you have one string for each party guest and attach all but one to the bottom of the box using masking or gift-wrapping tape. Tape the last string to the inside so that it opens the box when pulled, then tape the box closed. Hang the piñata so that all the little people can reach the strings.

Most Cinco de Mayo celebrations include mariachi bands, dancing in the streets and brightly colored costumes. You can look to your local library for Mexican music CDs or check out one of the larger music stores. They often have a section devoted to music from around the world, many of which are quite reasonably priced.

If you cannot find what you are looking for, why not make your own mariachi band! You can make trumpets out of cardboard tubes; use crayons or markers in green, white and red, the colors of the Mexican flag, to decorate. Design your own maracas by putting dried beans or macaroni noodles in an empty pop bottle. A guitar can be made with a tissue box, or other small box with a hole cut in it, and six elastic bands of different widths wrapped around it for the strings.

The addition of a juego (game), like pin the tail on the donkey, is all you need to make your celebration complete. After the party, keep the mood going by watching a few episodes of Dora the Explorer or some Go Diego Go. Also, many DVD movies come with Spanish subtitles; why not watch their favorite this way? Your children will have fun, learn about other culture’s traditions and expand their minds.

When the party is over, give yourself permission to put your feet up… you’ve earned a siesta!

Lisa is a freelance writer living in Calgary. You may reach her by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on Facebook: Lisa Brandner – The Write Stuff.

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