Christmas Piñatas? What’s Up With Those?

And what makes them so special?

The traditional Mexican piñata is not the multicolored donkey stuffed with candy and smashed at birthday parties. That one is sold everywhere. The Pinata comes from China, where it was broken by the emperors celebrating New Years. It was shaped like a bull, typically adorned with brightly colored paper which, depending on the color employed, brought different things to the new year. It was filled with seeds and burned after it was broken open and many  people would scoop up the ashes in hopes of good luck for the year. This tradition was hauled from China to Europe by Marco Polo, and the piñata got its name and religious meaning in Italy; “pignatta means fragile pot, and they were first crafted to symbolize a pine cone. It quickly spread to Europe and eventually Spain.

Originally, it was brought by the Spanish to Mexico at the beginning of the 16th century as a way to evangelize the Mayans. The natives were keen on sports and had a game where they tried to break a clay pot which was full of chocolate and hung from a string. The padres saw this popular game as an opportunity to link it to Catholicism, and to teach the people a religious twist to it. Toward this end, the game was trotted out each year close to advent time.

 The Aztecs had a similar ritual for Huitzilopotchli’s birthday, where they filled a pot with tiny treasures and jewels, decorated it with bright feathers, and  placed it all on a pole in the temple of the god of war. When broken, the treasures spilled at the feet of Huitzilopotchli’s image, as an offering.

Christmas pinatas must have seven points. No Homer Simpson shapes, no animals, sticking with seven points, please. The traditional seven point piñata has a clay pot core, representing Satan and seven cones with streamers at the end of them, representing the seven deadly sins. It was all covered in bright beautiful colored paper, which represents the temptation of evil. Legend has it that the devil makes sins look beautiful to lure in sinners. And, it is shaped as a star, to remind us of the star of Belem.

To break the piñata symbolizes defeat: pride with humility, greed with generosity, rage with patience, jealousy with understanding, lust with chastity, gluttony with temperance, and laziness with diligence. Covering the eyes means to trust blindly and fully, and the stick represents willpower. The entire tradition is supposed to be pretty much a fast and fun way to absolve your sins without that bit of bother involved in confessing to a priest.

This seven point affair is typically stuffed with fruits, mostly oranges and sugar cane, and these represent god’s love when you break and defeat the evil. Finally, some people spin you around blindfolded before you try hitting it, supposedly to confuse your pure heart; tradition states 33 spins, to commemorate Jesus’ age before being hung on the cross. Not everyone at the party gets a piece of God’s love in this way so money is given out, with the idea that no soul is left without some loving

Nowadays for security purposes piñatas are no longer made with a clay pot. Emergency workers are happy for the change, as clay pot parts were raining down on players; parts, ruining parties, but songs have come up, the typical one being “Dale,dale, dale, no pierdas el tino, por que si lo pierdes, pierdes el camino” which translates to “hit it, hit it, hit it, don’t lose your aim because if you do, you’ll lose your way” turning into a joke, you better not lose aim, buddy. Also, a piñata song’s excerpt is: “La piñata tiene caca, tiene caca, cacahuates de a montón” Caca means shit in Spanish, cacahuates peanuts, obviously funny in Spanish, but making a note to duck when the piñata breaks. Is it only we Mexicans who can turn a religiously significant event into what sounds like a sailor’s dittie? ,