Lure of the piñata

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A piñata is a figure, traditionally made from a clay pot covered with papier-mâché and decorated in bright colours, with candies and fruit inside. At parties piñatas are suspended from a rope and children, usually blindfolded, take turns hitting it with a stick until it breaks and the candies falls out onto the ground and the children rush to collect it.

One of the practices associated with some cultures for birthdays is having a piñata. This is also of pagan origin and we should have nothing to do with this practice. Originally, the piñata was made in a figure of a mermaid, although it is not always a mermaid now.

The mermaid was beaten with sticks to break the piñata or parcel of seeds, which she had, in order that the seeds would fall to the earth and so reproduce. That is why the piñata has sweets/candies in it representing the seeds.

In ancient times, they placed humans in skins and beat them. Often the rites involved human sacrifice.

The idea of breaking a container filled with treats came to Europe in the 14th century, where the name, from the Italian pignatta, was introduced. Spanish missionaries brought the European tradition to Mexico, using the piñata to attract converts to their ceremonies.

However, there were similar traditions in Mesoamerica. The Aztecs had a similar tradition to honour the birthday of the god of war, Huitzilopochtli, in mid December, during which priests placed a clay pot on a pole in the temple. Colourful feathers adorned the richly decorated pot, filled with tiny treasures. When broken with a stick or club, the treasures fell to the feet of the god’s image as an offering. The Mayans, great lovers of sport, played a game where the player’s eyes were covered while hitting a clay pot suspended by string. The missionaries ingeniously transformed these games for religious instruction. They covered the traditional pot with coloured paper, giving it an extraordinary, perhaps fearful appearance.

What is the symbolism of the piñata?

The decorated clay pot, also called a cantero, represents Satan, who often wears an attractive mask to attract humanity (see The Great Deception). The most traditional style piñata was shaped like a star with seven points, each with streamers. Star is metaphor for angel ~ Satan is a fallen angel.

Seven pointed piñata

The points represent the seven deadly sins or pecados — greed, gluttony, sloth, pride, envy, wrath and lust. The bright colours of the piñata symbolise temptation — beautiful and bright, the piñata tempted. Candies and fruits inside represented the cantaros (temptations) of wealth and earthly pleasures.

Before striking the piñata with sticks of various colours, one was required to be blindfolded. The blindfold represents mankind’s spiritual blindness to the lies and temptation of Satan.

The piñata’s history in Mexico dates back to 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 authorisation from Pope Sixtus V to hold what were called misas de aguinaldo, which later became the posadas (see Pagan feasts).

Statue of Franciscan monk hitting a piñata in Acolman, Mexico State

Statue of Franciscan monk hitting a seven pointed piñata in Acolman, Mexico

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 evangelise the native people of the region.

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 candies.

In Catalonia, a Christmastide tradition known as fer cagar el tió (making the log defecate) is observed. A log is wrapped with a blanket several days in advance of Christmas and is ‘fed’ grass. On Christmas Eve, the log is repeatedly struck with sticks in order to make the log ‘defecate’. The blanket is then removed to reveal the gifts that have been ‘expelled’ by the log.

In Italy, feasts with a game similar to piñata, called pentolaccia, used to be celebrated the first Sunday of Lent.

In Maharashtra, India, another similar tradition called Dahi Handi is observed on the festival of Janmashtami, Krishna’s birthday. The iconography represents the Hindu god 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 closely resembles the piñata event.

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

In the Philippines, a similar game called hampas-palayok or pukpok-palayok (hit-the-pot) is played during Filipino fiestas and traditional parties, such as birthdays, in which a clay pot filled with treats and/or prizes is used. Also đập nêu (pot-hitting) appears in Vietnamese traditional custom.

The piñata appears in movies and music videos to represent Satan:

Lil Wayne's My Homies Still music video

Lil Wayne’s My Homies Still music video; the piñata above the number 393 on the porch is later seen in front of a window:

Lil Wayne's My Homies Still video2

Piñata in The Gone-Fishin' Job episode of Leverage

The ‘Gone-Fishin’ Job’ episode of the American series Leverage

Jim Carey as a piñata on the set of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

Jim Carey as a zebra piñata on the set of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013) in Los Angeles, America on 25 January 2012

Parenthood (1989)

Parenthood (1989)

Valentine's Day (2010)

Heart-shaped piñata in Valentine’s Day (2010)

Piñata: Survival Island (2002)

An evil, murderous piñata in Piñata: Survival Island (2002)

Killer Piñata (2015)

Killer Piñata (2015)

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