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A nine-pointed star piñata

A piñata is a brightly-colored papier-mâché covering either a clay container or cardboard shape. It may have originated in China. Marco Polo 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, bananas spilled forth. After burning the remains, people gathered the ashes for good luck throughout the year. The term 'Piñata' has also come to mean mean a sort of punching bag in the wider sense.

Contents

International spread

Large piñata in the Zócalo in Mexico City

In Mexico, piñatas are believed to have originated among the Aztecs, Mayans, and other native peoples of Mexico, who made clay pots in the shape of their gods. The pots were meant to be broken forcefully with poles and sticks, so the contents spilled to signify abundance or favors from the gods. Historians tell us that during the birthday celebration of the Aztec god of war, Huitzilopochtli, priests hung a clay pot on a pole in the temple. The pot was adorned with colorful feathers and filled with small treasures like bead ornaments, colorful or painted stones, berries, or nuts. When the pot was broken with a stick the little treasures spilled on the feet of the god as an offering. The Mayans played a game where the central player’s eyes were covered with a cloth while he tried to hit the pot that was suspended by a string.

It has also been reported that the Spanish conquistadors brought the piñata practice to Mexico, where it became very popular perhaps due to the similar Mayan tradition of breaking clay pots. But the Spaniards soon changed the meaning of the piñata in the new world. It is believed that at the beginning of the 16th century the Spanish missionaries that went to America lured converts to their ceremonies by using piñatas. The friars cleverly transformed the traditional clay pot ceremonies into religious instruction sessions. They did this by covering the pot with colored paper, and giving it an impressive, perhaps evil appearance. The decorated clay pot may have represented Satan or evil deeds who would wear a pleasing mask to seem attractive and deceive the non-Christian.[1]

The modern piñata tradition is said to have originated at the same time as the Christmas posadas, in Acolman de Nezahualcoyotl, in the present state of Mexico, near the archaeological site of Teotihuacan. In 1586 the Augustinian friars in Acolman received authorization from Pope Sixtus V to hold what were called "misas de aguinaldo", which later became the posadas. It was at these masses that were held in the days leading up to Christmas that the friars introduced the piñata. They used the piñata as an allegory to help them in their efforts to evangelize the native people of the region.

The original piñata was shaped like a star with seven points. The points represented the seven deadly sins, and the bright colors of the piñata symbolize temptation. The blindfold represents faith and the stick is virtue or the will to overcome sin. The candies and other goodies inside the piñata are the riches of the kingdom of heaven. Thus teaching that with faith and virtue one could overcome sin and receive all the rewards of heaven. [2]

Nowadays, piñatas have been adopted in many parts of the world and have become a more common sight at parties and celebrations, especially in México, Central America and the Southern United States, mostly due to the close influence from Mexican culture.

In Puerto Rico and Venezuela, piñatas are traditionally present only at children birthday parties. They are usually made of cardboard, colorfully decorated to match the birthday party theme (superhero, princess, or any other creative design) and filled with candy, chocolates, small toys and confetti. Colored strings (long enough to reach the ground) are attached to the bottom of the piñata, where a trap-door is hidden under the decoration. The piñata is then hung in a central location for everyone to see, but the strings are kept out of the reach of children. Toward the end of the party, usually after the cutting of the cake, an announcement is made that the piñata will be 'broken' and each child is given an empty party bag. All the children gather directly underneath the piñata and each child is given a string to hold. Then, at the count of three, the children pull their strings all at the same time. This opens the hidden trap-door (or 'breaks' the piñata) and the children receive a shower of candy and confetti while they rush to fill up their bags with the treats.

Piñatas have also been introduced to Europe over the last several decades, although at a much slower pace. India is one of few countries outside of the Americas to have adopted the Mexican tradition of the piñata for cultural celebrations.

Similar traditions

Modern piñatería in Tijuana, Mexico

A similar tradition in Denmark is slå katten af tønden ("hit the cat out of the barrel") in which a wooden barrel is struck to release candy.

In Maharashtra, India another similar tradition called Dahi Handi is observed on the festival of Janmashtami, Lord Krishna's birthday. The iconography represents Lord Krishna's childhood portrayal as the mischievous Maakhan Chor(butter thief). Clay pots filled with buttermilk, money or treats, in lieu of butter, are hung in public squares or on streets at a height implicitly challenging youngsters to break them. Teams put in great planning, skill and effort to form human pyramids, each higher than the other, in an attempt to break the pot and claim the prize.

In South Indian villages, festivals feature a competition called Uri adithal (Pot breaking with blindfold) which is inspired by, and closely resembles the piñata event.

In the Philippines, a clay pot or "palayok" is used without the papier-mâché decoration. Hence, the local name is "Paluan ng Palayok" or "Smash the Clay Pot".

In Argentina and Brazil, a big balloon is used to hold the contents.

In Japan, a similar game called suikawari is played where a watermelon shell is used, instead of a piñata.

In the United States, the piñata is a popular game for birthday parties. A donkey shape is the most common, although various other pop culture based designs have become common (akin to Halloween). Safety precautions include providing a wide space for the baseball bat to be swung by the blindfolded persion, and using a plastic bat. A common tradition is to spin the batter before he or she tries to hit the piñata, making the person dizzy. Piñatas are commonly full of candy and other treats.

See also

References


Simple English

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