Piñata, the roots of a tradition

The piñata and its origins

Diego Rivera’s The Piñata

Of the many Mexican traditions that are known overseas, the piñata is probably the most recognized of all.

Though its exact origin is unfamiliar, it seems that the Mexican piñata has its roots in China. Italian explorer Marco Polo recounted seeing in his travels a ritual in which the figure of an ox filled with seeds was broken open with sticks to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

A mix of traditions

Piñatas, part of Mexican culture

The practice was transported to Europe in the 14th century and was adapted to the celebrations of Lent. In the 16th century, Spanish missionaries introduced this tradition to Mexico with the aim of converting the indigenous population to Christianity. Similar traditions were already found in the Aztec and Mayan populations where clay pots filled with goodies were broken open with clubs. The missionaries adapted these practices for religious teaching.

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In this way, the piñata became another resultant of the fusion of different cultures that over time has become the Mexico of today; a country where Catholicism is rich in colourful expression and where the mix of old and new has produced a rich culture.

For parties and posadas, the piñata

A traditional piñata with 7 points

The piñata has become a staple in Mexican festivities and none more so than the Christmas Posada, a celebration that reenacts the story of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to shelter and for Mary to give birth to baby Jesus.

For this celebration the piñata takes the shape of a star with seven points, representing the seven deadly sins; pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. The piñata is filled with candy and is attractively decorated with strips of colourful shiny paper said to represent the temptation of these sins. This representation of evil must therefore be destroyed with a wooden club and a sweet surprise is the reward for doing so.

No matter the origins of the piñata, today it is a representation of Mexican culture and a tradition that Mexican families enjoy and aim to preserve.

What is your favourite Mexican tradition? Let us know in the comments section below.

 

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