A pinata is a hollow container that is made with a variety of materials, typically with papier-mâché that is later decorated, filled with candy and then broken apart with a stick as part of a celebration, party or event. The origins of pinatas have been traced all the way to China where Marco Polo first discovered the Chinese custom of creating figures of oxen, buffaloes and cows with colorful paper and decorated with trappings and harnesses for the New Year. These figures where knocked and broken with sticks until a variety of colorful seeds spilled from within them, the seeds were then burned and gathered in order to have good luck through the whole year. This custom was later passed down to Europe during the 14th Century whom adapted it to the celebrations of lent known as “Pinata Sunday”. In Italy Pinatas got their name from the word “Pignatta” which means “fragile pot” since figures that were made without bases actually resembled small clay containers used to carry water.
Soon the custom spread to Spain who modified the pinata by using a clay container called la olla, which was decorated with ribbons, fringed paper and tinsel. When Spanish settlers arrived to Mexico they used these pinatas to attract the native people to their ceremonies. Although the Mesoamerican people already had a similar custom, since they would celebrate the birthday of their Aztec god of war called Huitzilopochtli by placing a clay pot that was decorated with feathers onto a pole inside of their temples at the end of the year and was filled with small treasures. Once it was broken the treasures would fall to the feet of the god’s image as an offering.
The Mayans also had a similar tradition to the Aztecs, except they used a clay pot that was suspended by a string as a part of a game, where the player’s eyes would be covered while they attempted to hit the clay pot. The Spanish settlers later transformed this game for religious instruction by creating a similar pinata from the traditional clay pot, they would decorate it with colorful paper while giving it an amazing and spooky appearance.
The most traditional style of pinata in Mexico is known as the pointed star pinata, it has seven cones that are decorated with streamers and each represents the seven deadly sins: greed, sloth, envy, gluttony, pride, wrath and lust. Since it is brightly and colorfully decorated it serves to represent the temptation of these sins, as well as the candies and fruits that are used to fill the container. It is traditional in Mexico to blindfold a person and spin them around before they attempt to break the pinata, this represents the leading force that defies evil which is “blind faith”.
Another meaning of the pinata is hope, since it is hung high above everyone’s heads, as people look up towards the sky anxiously waiting for the prize. The stick used to break the pinata stands for virtue since only good can win over evil. Once the pinata is broken, the goodies that spill from within it represent the reward for being faithful.
Today pinatas are most commonly used for fun instead of their original religious symbolism, and participants join the breaking of the pinata as a game solely for fun. These colorful and fun figures have become an essential part of Mexican culture and are very popular during Posadas, Birthday parties and other celebrations. Also there are traditional songs that are sung while people attempt to break the pinata, the most common Spanish song goes something like this:
Dale, dale, dale, no perdas el tino, porque si lo perdes, pierdes el camino. Esta piñata es de muchas mañas, sólo contiene naranjas y cañas.
Today pinatas come in all shapes, colors and sizes for all party themes, and also come in a variety of famous comic, cartoon, movie and tv characters that children love. So if you’re looking for the perfect pinata then look no further because MexGrocer.com has over 29 pinata figures for you to choose from with a diverse selection of figures for any Mexican fiesta, birthday party or posada. They are sure to be a hit at all of your children’s parties; pinatas are wonderful traditions that will make your kids have a blast while breaking them and gathering their sweet candy treasures.
Learn more about the History of the Pinatas