What’s a party of any kind without a piñata?! It is guaranteed to make any party come alive! Have you ever stopped to think of the history behind the piñata? Well, of course we had to do a little research and find out!
Our first bit of research was with our Par-T-Perfect Durham Region Office – the fabulous owners are from Mexico and shared some of the history with me. I was surprised to find out that piñatas had a religious context!
According to some of the Google searches I did, there is a thought that Marco Polo discovered piñatas in China. He discovered the Chinese fashioning figures of cows, oxen or buffaloes, covered with colored paper and adorned with harnesses and trappings. Special colors traditionally greeted the New Year. When the mandarins knocked the figure hard with sticks of various colors, seeds spilled forth. After burning the remains, people gathered the ashes for good luck throughout the year.
The custom then passed into Europe in the 14th century, adapting to the celebrations of Lent. The first Sunday became ‘Piñata Sunday’. The Italian word ‘pignatta’ means “fragile pot.” Originally, piñatas fashioned without a base resembled clay containers for carrying water. Some say this is the origin of the traditional pineapple shape. Also the Latin prefix ‘piña’ implies a cluster of flowers or fruits as in ‘pineapples’ and ‘pine cones’.
When the custom spread to Spain, the first Sunday in Lent became a fiesta called the ‘Dance of the Piñata’. The Spanish used a clay container called la olla, the Spanish word for pot. At first, la olla was not decorated. Later, ribbons tinsel and fringed paper were added and wrapped around the pot.
The decorated clay pot also called a cantero represents Satan who often wears an attractive mask to attract humanity. The most traditional style piñata looks a bit like Sputnik, with seven points, each with streamers. These cones represent the seven deadly sins, pecados – greed, gluttony, sloth, pride, envy, wrath and lust. Beautiful and bright, the piñata tempted. Candies and fruits inside represented the cantaros (temptations) of wealth and earthly pleasures.
Today the piñata has lost its religious symbolism and is played solely for fun- during all festivities including birthdays!
Some other fun facts we found on the history of the piñata are:
- Originally the cones were covered with shiny paper representing the temptation of the Devil, shiny colors get the attention of humans.
- The blindfolded participant represents faith
- The piñata served as a symbol of hope
- The stick was the faith and the piñata is full of good things that humans may discover if they defeat the devil by believing in God and having strong faith.
- The original shape of the piñata was a 7 pointed star. Today you can find piñatas in all shapes & sizes
- Finally, the piñata also symbolizes charity, when broken everyone shares in the blessings & gifts
- Traditionally piñatas are filled with both candies & fruit
- Similar traditions are found in Denmark – hit a wooden barrel to release candy. India – clay pots filled with buttermilk, money or treats in honour of Lord Krishna’s birthday. In Japan, a game called Kuikawari is played where a watermelon shell is used. Similar traditions of hitting clay pots are played in the Filipino & Vietnamese fiestas.