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The Pinata Tradition

History of the piñata

by Nicole White


traditional-star-pinata.jpgToday when you think of the pinata game or pinatas in general you're probably envisioning the fun furry candy filled creatures that are available at almost any party supply store or Mex grocer. But pinatas, as well as the pinata tradition have evolved a long way since it's Chinese origins. Although the pinata tradition was always intended for fun there are many interesting facts that go beyond playing a game.


Marco Polo was the first to discover many things, among his discoveries was the Chinese tradition of decorating animal figures such as cows, oxen, and buffalo with colored paper. The Mandarins used these early pinatas to greet the new year, they would bash open the pinatas with sticks also decorated with colored paper, spilling fourth seeds. This was considered good luck for the new year.


During the 14th Century in Europe, the pinata custom became associated with Lent and the first Sunday was considered “Pinata Sunday.” The word “pignatta” means “fragile pot” in Italian and pinatas during this time were made from clay containers originally made for transporting water. These water pots were hung in similar fashion to the Chinese pinatas of the past.


Spreading to Spain, the Spanish also adopted the pinata tradition now referring to the first Sunday of Lent as “The Dance of the Pinata.” Lent was now more like a fiesta and pinatas became even more festive in appearance. They decorated “olla” the Spanish word for clay pot, with ribbons, tinsel, and fringed colored paper that would cover entire pot.


Early 16th Century Spanish missionaries brought the pinata tradition to North America to attract converts, even thought the natives already shared a similar custom in honor of their Aztec god of war, Huitzilopochtli. The Aztec priests would decorate their clay pots with feathers then fill them with small treasures. The pots where then taken in front of an idol and broken, spilling the small treasures at the feet of their god as an offering. The Mayans, loved the pinata tradition and celebrated in a more game like fashion, by covering the the player's eyes with a blindfold while he/she tried to hit the pot that was suspended by a rope.


The Spanish missionaries where quick to transform the pinata game into a religions practice. The clay pot became a representation of Satan, who uses temptation to attract humanity. The most traditional pinata shape was the seven pointed star, with each of its arms representing one of the seven deadly sins, greed, gluttony, sloth, pride, envy, wrath and lust. These brilliantly decorated pinatas tempted, holding inside wealth and worldly pleasures represented by candies and fruits.


The participant who was blindfolded represents good opposing evil by having faith which was blind. The player was spun around thirty three times in memory of Jesus Christ and his 33 years upon the earth.


Nowadays, the pinata game or pinata tradition has lost it's religious meaning and is participated purely for entertainment rather than exercising one's faith in God. Pinatas still remain popular during “Las Posadas”, a Mexican tradition for welcoming the Christmas season. Traditionally people would also sing while breaking the pinata. And today, unlike the clay pots used in the past, pinatas are mostly made from newspaper, tissue paper, and paper mache paste and normally resemble popular kids cartoon characters. Read more about the different types of modern pinatas by clicking here.

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