It is a widespread “fact” that the Chinese may have been the first to use something like a
piñata as part of their New Year’s celebration, which also marked the beginning of spring.
In their tradition, their piñatas represented figures of cows, oxen, and buffalo; they were
adorned with colored paper and then they were filled with five kinds of seeds. Colored sticks
were used to break the figures open. The decorative paper that covered the figures was burned
and the ashes gathered and kept for good luck during the coming year.
In the 13th century, it is said that Venetian traveler Marco Polo took the “piñata” with him from
China to Italy. In Italy, it was renamed after the Italian word “pignatta”, or fragile pot, and came
to be filled with trinkets, jewelry, or candy instead of seeds.
The tradition then spread to Spain, where breaking the piñata became a custom on the first
Sunday of Lent. And, at the beginning of the 16th century, Spanish missionaries brought the
piñata to Mexico.
However, the native people of Mexico already had a similar tradition. The Aztecs celebrated the
birthday of Huitzilopochtli, god of the sun and war, by placing a clay pot on a pole in his temple
at the end of the year. They decorated the pot with colorful feathers and filled it with small
treasures. It was then broken with a stick, and the treasures that spilled out became an offering
to the god’s image. The Maya also played a game in which blindfolded participants hit a clay
pot suspended by a string.
As part of their effort to evangelize the Indians, the Spanish missionaries made use of the
piñata to symbolize the Christian’s struggle to conquer the Devil and sin. The traditional piñata
was a clay pot covered with colored paper and given a star shape with seven tasseled points.
These points were said to represent the seven deadly sins: greed, gluttony, sloth, pride, envy,
wrath, and lust. Striking the piñata while blindfolded represented blind faith and willpower
overcoming temptation or evil. The treats inside the piñata were the reward.
Many year later, the piñata became part of the festivities of the posadas during the Christmas
season and continues as such to this day, using a star-shaped piñata to represent the star that
guided the astrologers to Bethlehem.
Breaking the piñata is also a tradition at birthday parties and other celebrations, and it has
departed in many ways from its religious origins and its traditional shapes. In fact, nowadays
piñatas are used in all kinds of celebrations and we at pinatas.com want to make sure that in
2018 you have the piñata you need for every single occasion, from birthdays, bachelorette
parties and even weddings, to corporate events and anniversaries.
By Diego Garzón