Since its origins, pinatas have involved a traditional celebration. It is believed that they where born in China, where a cow-shaped pinata full of seeds was beaten to propitiate a favorable climate for the upcoming growing season.
The tradition arrived in Europe and was asssociated to the Christian observance of Lent, the period of preparation before Easter. The pinata was a clay pot decorated with colored paper and ribbons and the treats inside were considered as a reward for faithful believers.
When the Spanish brought pinatas to Mexico in the 16th Century, they found a similar practice among the Mayas and Aztecs: priests would decorate a clay pot with colorful feathers and beat it to reveal treasures before their god on the divinity's birthday, celebrated in December.
This was very helpful for Spanish monks, who started using pinatas for evangelism purposes, associating a star-shaped pinata with the Star of Bethlehem and having kids beat it during Christmas "Posadas". Posadas are a 9-day period ending on Christmas Eve representing the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. During this celebration, people meet at different "posadas" or "inns", which are merely friends or relatives homes where the attendees pray, sing Christmas carols and celebrate the upcoming birth of Jesus.
Pinata Shapes: From Fiesta Stars and Donkey Pinatas to Kids Favorite Characters
As mentioned before, the fiesta star pinata stood for the star of Bethlehem, which guided The Three Wise Men and shepherds to Jesus's place of birth, who came to worship the baby and bring him gifts.
The donkey pinata stands for the "burro" that the expectant mother rode in her journey to Jerusalem.
Before these 2 Christian meanings, the pinata was simply a decorated round clay pot. Today, thousands of designs come alive into a pinata to please kids with their favorite characters, to commemorate events, places or people or simply as a gag gift for friends!
Why Do We Beat Pinatas?
Nowadays, pinatas have lost their once religious meaning, but the idea of breaking them during a feast to disclose presents prevails.
Pinatas and wrapped-up presents have something in common: the surprise element. Goodies are "hidden" inside the pinata.
Pinatas have been associated to the sky in every tradition they have been involved in, be it due to their relationship with the rain or with a divinity. Thus the reason why they must be "pending in the sky". So throughout its history, pinatas have been a hanging container of gifts that must be "unwrapped" or broken open, allowing everyone to receive a portion of the presents.