Defeating Evil with a Piñata

Whoever has attended a family or community celebration in Mexico, knows that there is a ritual everyone awaits for: the Piñata. Even though it is mostly associated with Mexico, little is known about its origins and how it became so ubiquitous in Mexi

The Piñata origin is uncertain; although many historians point at ancient China we know for sure that it arrived in Mexico with the Spaniards after the conquest. Once more, clever Franciscan friars took advantage of this colorful artifact in an educational way in order to explain the natives the benefits of defeating evil, which in this case was represented by the idols they worshipped. So, Piñatas were demon-like reproductions that survive today only the “Judas Burning” celebration during the Holy Week in some central-Mexico towns.

Time went through and the friars witnessed the effectiveness of such lessons, so they moved the ritual to other celebrations changing shapes and symbolism. In such way it happened that famous seven-point star-like Piñata first appeared in a Posada in the Augustine convent of Acolman, a town lying North East of Mexico City, in 1586. It hasn’t an official symbolism buy almost everyone in Mexico recognizes that the clay bowl represents evil, the seven points represent the Capital Sins, breaking it with eyes covered is an allegory of faith and sweets are the reward for those who defeat evil.

During the first half of the 20th century mass media underwent a fast growth and many newspaper cartoons became celebrities. Piñata artisans immediately began to copy the most popular cartoons, which quickly became honor guests in celebrations such as birthdays and weddings. However, in order to model more complicated shapes, artisans began to handle easier-to-use materials like newspaper or cardboard soaked in paste. Once dry this material becomes hard enough to contain things and resist some strikes.

That is why clay-bowl Piñatas aren’t so common nowadays. Modern Piñata production is practical and costs are kept considerably low. An average commercial Piñata is made with a cardboard mold in the desired shape. Then the cardboard is decorated with papier-mâché, aluminum foil and other decorations with selected colors, all glued to the mold with any kind of glue. Once dry, a hole is made on top in order to fill the Piñata with sweets, fruit and presents.

Piñatas made their way to the U.S. with the mass Mexican immigration during the last quarter of the 20th century. In this country the seven-point Piñata became a cultural identity symbol rather than religious and it is used in even more fiestas than in Mexico, including “Cinco de Mayo” and “Independence Day”.

Whether it is made of clay or hardened paper, today Piñatas are a symbol of the joy and hospitality of the Mexican people.