Officially, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over the French in a battle in 1862. Unofficially, it’s a reason to throw a fiesta—and these Cinco de Mayo party ideas will have you on your way to throwing a memorable bash that your friends will be talking about forever. No small feat, considering May 5 has kinda morphed into one of the biggest holidays of the year.
Blogger, entertaining expert, and all around chicster Athena Calderone of Eye Swoon‘s take on why Cinco de Mayo has caught on in such a big way? “It’s really a time to let loose, think colorfully, and it’s just so festive,” she says.
It’s hard to not get caught up in Cinco de Mayo fever, but at same time, you’re probably at a stage in life when you want to throw an adult fete in celebration. Luckily, Calderone came to the rescue, offering up seven tips for planning a last-minute stylish Cinco de Mayo bash.
1. Think creatively (but simply) when it comes to decor
Think creatively, but don’t complicate things when planning decor for a Cinco de Mayo bash. “I love the idea of using cans—jalapeño or chipotle so the elements tie in to the theme—and using them as your flower vessels,” Calderone suggests. “You can get them at your corner store, and they’re so utilitarian and simple, but also fun and crafty.”
Calderone also says that creating a gorgeous tablescape is key to making your last-minute party look like it had been in the works for months. Another idea is to put “cacti down your table,” Calderone says. “It’s really easy to execute, but will look great.”
2. Pull together your party with a color scheme
A cohesive color palette will really help you tie your party decor together, according to Calderone.
“Don’t be afraid of vibrant colors, like red and pink, but stick to them,” she said. “You can even use Mexican blankets as your tablecloth to tie together your color palette.”
3. Prepare as much as you can ahead of time
“I’m such a believer, especially when I’m entertaining on a weeknight, of preparing things as much as I can, ahead,” Calderone shared.
Some ideas for what to make? Braised chicken or pork tacos, or chicken tinga—all dishes that actually taste better if you start on them the night before. “The only thing you can’t make ahead, really, is the guacamole,” Calderone advises.
4. The secret sauce to a great party: Music and lighting
“Music and lighting are such important elements,” to a party Calderone stresses. “Candles really pull everything together, and set the tone,” she says. “And music can really change an environment. [At worst] it can make a party too sleepy or too loud, but it can also make a party.”
Calderone’s trick for getting it just right? “I’m notorious for hating to put together playlists,” she jokes. “Instead, when a friend asks me what they can bring to one of my parties, Ill say bring me a playlist. It’s definitely fun to have friends manage that.”
5. Get the guest list right
As for getting that all-important guest list right, Calderone suggest either inviting a group that all knows each other, or handpicking a total mix of people who’ve never met.
“I hosted a party last week, and invited just two people who really didn’t know any one else, and that was my mistake,” she says. So think either in terms of creating a guest list based on variety, or one made up of all close friends.
6. Make a signature cocktail
“Cinco de Mayo is all about the margarita,” Calderone says. A fan of all margaritas, especially ones that include Cointreau, Calderone suggests: “I like the idea of serving a signature margarita—a spicy margarita (recipe below), or a blood orange margarita.”
7. And don’t forget to have plenty of water on hand for guests
A big party faux pas, according to Calderone, especially for a Cinco de Mayo party, is not having enough easy access to water. “Make sure there is plenty of water out—a lot of time your guests won’t ask for it—so everyone is hydrated. It’s all about being thoughtful.”
The Spicy Margarita
2 oz. Blanco tequila
1 oz. Cointreau
3/4 oz. Lime juice
2 Slices jalapeño
Pinch of cilantro
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and add ice. Shake and strain into an iced rocks glass. Garnish with Cilantro and Jalapeño Spiral.
Planning a Cinco de Mayo party? Tell us what you have in the works below!
Originally published May 2015. Updated May 2017.