The piñata is a very well known element of Mexican culture. It’s fun and festive and many Americans are familiar with them but, truth be told, what is the history of the piñata?
In a brief nutshell, the piñata is a figure-shaped container usually made of paper-mache. The shapes can be anything. The most traditional in Mexican culture is the seven-pointed star (each point representing one of the seven deadly sins), but if you go to Mexican stalls selling them, you’ll find any number of shapes, such as donkeys, jalapenos, pineapples and pop culture figures like Pokeman, Winnie the Pooh, Donald Trump and, now, the Coronavirus.
Piñatas are hollow on the inside so that they can be filled with fun treats and toys. They are usually adorned with ribbons and tissue paper and are meant to be broken open at parties, ceremonies and celebrations.
Piñatas have a long, rich, and religious history. The origin of the piñata seems to date back to 13th century China where similar paper shapes were filled with seeds and broken for good luck. This tradition is thought to have spread from Asia to Italy where it was called a “pignatta” (clay pot).
In the 16thcentury, Spanish missionaries coming to North America used the brightly colored piñatas to attract converts to their ceremonies. The interesting thing is that the indigenous people already had a very similar tradition of using pots covered with feathers to hold treasures inside. They played a game by covering a person’s eyes and having them hit the pot while it was suspended from a string.
These overlapping traditions blended together in the piñata that we all know today and which is commonly used at parties. Their previous religious symbolism is mostly a thing of the past and today they are associated with celebrations and birthdays.
I remember as a child always having a piñata at my birthday and how all my classmates loved this tradition. Whoever’s turn it was to try and break the piñata would be blindfolded, spun around multiple times until they had no idea what direction they were facing and then given a stick to swing and hit the piñata. I haven’t had one at a party in many years but for this year’s Cinco de Mayo, I’m making mini piñatas for my guests as party favors!
Here are the DIY instructions on making these personalized piñatas. You can make it simple and fill them all with candy. You can also get creative with the treasures you put in each of yours. If you have a girlfriend who loves make-up, maybe put a lip gloss or eye shadow in hers. If you have a guitar playing friend, maybe some guitar picks. A foodie can get some spice packets. Just make sure you label them so you know who gets what! I love personalizing these party favors for that special touch!