Piña (Pineapple) Piñata

Piñata History & Folklore

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Possible Origins of the Piñata

The history of the piñata is filled with folklore and legend. We may never know exactly how, where or when the piñata came to be because in every region of the world where piñatas are a tradition, the people have their own unique folklore about its history that even affects how the piñatas are made!

The oldest traceable incidence of piñatas points to China. Marco Polo discovered that the Mandarins made hollowed figures of cows, buffaloes and other animals and covered them with colored papers and ribbons for traditional festivities. He observed that each color had a meaning to the Chinese according to the celebration, such as the advent of the New Year. The hollowed figures were filled with seeds, to signify abundant harvests and ensuing prosperity. Marco Polo noted that when the Mandarins beat the figure with sticks (also adorned with meaningful colors), the seeds spilled on the ground. The people then made a huge fire and threw the remnants of the hollowed figures in it. The villagers collected the ashes and took some home to insure good luck and abundance throughout the year.

Marco Polo was so intrigued by the spectacle that he took some of these hollowed figures back to Europe.

One version of the Chinese “piñata” eventually took hold in Europe. In or around the 14th century the custom was applied to the traditional celebration of Lent. The first Sunday was known as “Piñata Sunday.”

The Italian word “pignatta” means “clay cooking pot” or “fragile pot.” The word also refers to something that has the shape of a kind of pineapple, as the first Italian piñatas are reported to have had. Furthermore, the Latin prefix “piña” or “pigna” may refer to a bunch or cluster of flowers or fruit, or a bunch of pine cones. Some traditional Mexican piñatas are fashioned in clusters, or cones pointing out from a round center, with streamers shooting from the tips.

Others have reported that piñatas as we know them today may 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, favors from the gods, etc… Obviously he native peoples of Mexico had a similar tradition of their own, without connection to the Chinese tradition.

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, nuts, etc. 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.

Another version of the piñata has the appearance of a star, with seven points ending in streamers. These cones represent the seven deadly sins. The blindfolded participant represents the conqueror of evil, or faith, which must be blind. People gather around the player and spin him to disorient him. The other participants cry out directions indicating to the player to hit higher, more to the right, straight ahead, etc.

The piñata was also said to represent hope. Since it was always hung above the heads of the participants, it symbolized what the faithful sought by looking toward the heavens, expecting a prize. The stick that broke the piñata stood for righteousness, virtue, or faith itself as the only one who can conquer evil. Once the pot is broken, the spilled candies, fruits, and seeds, represent the reward for those who wait in faith.





De Como Nacio La Pinata/ How the Pinata Was Born


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Pinatas from U.S. Toys  

Mexican Piñata Folklore

Today, the piñata no longer carries religious superstitions. It is used for religious and secular festivities with equal gusto.  The participants engage in the game just for fun and to bring an element of surprise and wonderment to the party when the children are successful in liberating the goodies contained inside. Piñatas are especially popular in Mexico during Las Posadas, which are traditional processions at the beginning of the Christmas season and at birthday parties. Singing is part of the tradition during these celebrations. The participants sing while dancing and hopping, attempting to break the piñata.  Even the songs are traditional:

Dale, dale, no pierdas el tino,
porque si lo pierdes, pierdes el camino…

Hit, hit, don’t lose your aim,
because if you lose it you miss the way.  

Another song goes:

No quiero niquel ni quiero plata
Lo que yo quiero es romper la piñata

I don’t want nickel or silver
I only want to break the piñata.


La piñata tiene caca, tiene caca… cacahuetes de a montón
La piñata tiene pipi, tiene pipi… pipitorias a montón
Andale niño(a), no te dilates, con la canasta de los cacahuates.

The piñata has poop, it has poop… a lot of peanuts
The piñata has piss, it has piss… a lot of peanut brittle
Go ahead child, don’t take so long with the peanut basket.

On December 12 the day of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated in Mexico and in the United States. In Mexico City, large processions enter the beautiful basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe with flowers, banners, and a great deal of singing that symbolizes the birds heard by Juan Diego during the first apparition of the Virgin Mary. This is a special festive day for families. They gather for parties where lots of food and piñatas are the focal points. Traditional shapes for piñatas on this day are donkeys, for the donkey that carried the Virgin Mary, fish, symbolizing Christ, and also birds to represent those that sang when Mary appeared to Juan Diego. Since there are many girls and boys named Guadalupe, it is also their namesake day, or the day of their patron saint. Such occasion guarantees the use of a piñata, as el dia del santo is as important as a birthday.





Jacquard Susan Pickering Rothamel Pinata Colors 1/2 oz. rainforest green  


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Spanish Piñata Folklore

After the piñata came to Spain from Italy, it was used during the first Sunday of Lent (Piñata Sunday), as it was in Italy. The piñata represented Satan, and the participant that broke it signified blind faith, the only capable of conquering evil.

In time, the tradition was lost in Spain, although missionaries used the tradition in America as an evangelizing tool.

It is believed that the Fallas Festival of Valencia, Spain during which huge flammable statues are burned, relates to piñata folklore. These giant figures are made of wood strips, paper maché, crépe paper, light plaster, etc. They may represent political figures, popular characters from movies and television, folk heroes, and the like. The enormous fires (fallas in Valencian) are accompanied by deafening fire-crackers.

Today, the world-wide popularity of the piñata has caused it to be reintroduced into Spain, with styles similar to those found in the United States.


Cuban Piñata Folklore

It is difficult to pinpoint when piñatas became popular in Cuba. During the 1950’s piñatas were a very important addition to a child’s birthday party. Some thought that the many Cubans who traveled to Mexico for their honeymoon during the forties and fifties brought the custom to the island, where it went through a few changes.

The piñatas made in Cuba were seldom the kind that is broken with a stick. Cuban piñatas were opened with ribbons that came out of the base, where the material was thinner, more breakable.

Children danced around the piñata, holding one end of a ribbon each, careful not to pull. An adult would give a signal for everybody to pull, and as the bottom fell out of the piñata, the children scrambled for the goodies. Sometimes the piñata was rigged so that only one of the ribbons would cause the bottom to fall out. Children would then take turns at pulling. An adult would know which of the ribbons would release the goodies. Usually the birthday boy or girl would be the one given that ribbon to pull.





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Piñatas Around the World

It is reported that in Chile, there’s no birthday party worth the time unless there is an impressive piñata to be broken.  Piñatas have become popular additions to children’s birthday parties in many Latin-American countries -- Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Panama.  Today, the popularity of piñatas in the United States continues to rise.




Updated 05/27/2012
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