The History of the Piñata
Marco Polo, while in China, discovered figures made to look like cows and other animals. They were colored with bright paper and decorated in different ways. This was to greet the New Year in China. The Chinese would knock the figures with colored sticks, and seeds would spill everywhere. They would then burn the remains of the figures, and people gathered the ashes produced for good luck in the New Year.
This custom passed through Europe, particularly Italy, where it became a tradition of Lent. In Italy, the piñata was actually referred to as a “pignatta”, meaning “fragile pot”. Italians would put goodies inside of pots and break them. These pots often looked like the popular food, pineapple. In Latin, the prefix of this translates to piña. This is where the name piñata came from. Inside these clay pots were not only candies, but also jewelry and trinkets. People would take turns hitting the piñata, and when it would break, the people would rush out to claim their prizes.
This activity spread to other countries around Europe and eventually came to Spain. The Spanish brought the custom to the Aztec indians. The Aztecs decorated clay pots of their own and filled them with treasures to celebrate the birthday of the god of war (Huitzilopochtli). The Aztecs would beat the clay pot, which was strung in front of an image of the god of war, and the treasures would fall to the feet of the image as an offering to him. Maya indians also used piñatas, but they used them as more of a game. They blindfolded each other to make it more of a sport, since the Mayas were very sport-oriented.
As the custom evolved, Mexican artists began to make the piñatas in their own ways, decorating them into objects of their own heritage and using cardboard and paper mache to do so.
Today, few people know the original meanings of the piñata. Now, piñatas are mostly used as a fun activity to celebrate birthdays in most latin American countries.
Posted By Joel Ceballos