I know I’m not alone in having thought the piñata originated in Mexico. Turns out piñatas may instead have come from China. Apparently the Chinese used colored paper to fashion cows, oxen, or buffaloes filled with seeds to mark their New Year.
Wendy Devlin writing about Mexico Culture & Arts tells us Marco Polo brought the idea back to Europe where they incorporated these fragile vessels (“pignatta” is the Italian for fragile pot – I dare you to see the word fragile and not think of A Christmas Story) into Lenten celebrations.
From the 14th to 16th centuries this stayed in Europe until Spanish missionaries headed over to North America, where the indigenous people already had a similar tradition of hanging a colorful clay pot filled with treasures outside the temple and breaking it open with a stick or club.
Piñatas even once had religious meaning. For instance, Devlin points out the seven points on a traditional piñata represented the seven deadly sins. (I’m not sure how letting kids grapple on the ground for a pile of sweets is competing the sins of greed, gluttony, envy or wrath, but that’s a debate for theologians I guess).
I’m amazed the piñata tradition has been around for centuries. Then again, my son begged for another one at his birthday this year.
Surely, it helps they are so easy to make. Check out this video for a Mexican-style piñata that cost just $8 to make (not sure if she included the candy). Or visit Piñata Boy’s site for more varied instructions.
If you’re truly worried about etiquette for properly pounding the piñata, check out this blogger’s tips on How to Avoid Piñata Event Failure.
Finally, I’d encourage you to check out this awesome art project of a cowering human piñata!