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A nine-pointed star pinata PINATA.jpg
A nine-pointed star piñata

A piñata ( /pɪnˈjɑːtə/ , Spanish pronunciation:  [piˈɲata] ( Loudspeaker.svg listen )) is a container often made of papier-mâché, pottery, or cloth; it is decorated, and filled with small toys or candy, or both, and then broken as part of a ceremony or celebration. Piñatas are commonly associated with Mexico. 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. The Spanish brought the European tradition to Mexico, although there were similar traditions in Mesoamerica, such as the Aztecs' honoring the birthday of the god Huītzilōpōchtli in mid December. According to local records, the Mexican piñata tradition began in the town of Acolman, just north of Mexico City, where piñatas were introduced for catechism purposes as well as to co-opt the Huitzilopochtli ceremony. Today, the piñata is still part of Mexican culture, the cultures of other countries in Latin America, as well as the United States, but it has mostly lost its religious character.

Papier-mâché paper-based construction material

Papier-mâché is a composite material consisting of paper pieces or pulp, sometimes reinforced with textiles, bound with an adhesive, such as glue, starch, or wallpaper paste.

Pottery Craft of making objects from clay

Pottery is the process of forming vessels and other objects with clay and other ceramic materials, which are fired at high temperatures to give them a hard, durable form. Major types include earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. The place where such wares are made by a potter is also called a pottery. The definition of pottery used by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), is "all fired ceramic wares that contain clay when formed, except technical, structural, and refractory products." In archaeology, especially of ancient and prehistoric periods, "pottery" often means vessels only, and figures etc. of the same material are called "terracottas". Clay as a part of the materials used is required by some definitions of pottery, but this is dubious.

Mexico Country in the southern portion of North America

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2,000,000 square kilometers (770,000 sq mi), the nation is the fifth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent state in the world. With an estimated population of over 129 million people, Mexico is the tenth most populous country and the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world, while being the second most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states plus Mexico City (CDMX), which is the capital city and its most populous city. Other metropolises in the country include Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Toluca, Tijuana, and León.


A woman strikes a pinata at a celebration. Pinata Animation.gif
A woman strikes a piñata at a celebration.


Statue of Franciscan friar hitting a pinata in Acolman, Mexico State MonkPinataAcolman1.JPG
Statue of Franciscan friar hitting a piñata in Acolman, Mexico State

Although piñatas are uniquely thought of as a fun activity for parties nowadays, they have a long, rich history. [1] There is some debate but it appears that their origin is not Spanish but Chinese. [2] The Chinese version was in the shape of a cow or ox and used for the New Year. It was decorated with symbols and colors meant to produce a favorable climate for the coming growing season. It was filled with five types of seeds and then hit with sticks of various colors. After the piñata was broken, the remains were burned and the ashes kept for good luck. [1] [3] [4]

Chinese New Year traditional Chinese holiday

Chinese New Year is the Chinese festival that celebrates the beginning of a new year on the traditional Chinese calendar. The festival is usually referred to as the Spring Festival in mainland China, and is one of several Lunar New Years in Asia. Observances traditionally take place from the evening preceding the first day of the year to the Lantern Festival, held on the 15th day of the year. The first day of Chinese New Year begins on the new moon that appears between 21 January and 20 February. In 2020, the first day of the Chinese New Year will be on Saturday, 25 January, initiating the Year of the Rat.

The tradition arrived in Europe in the 14th century where it was associated with the Christian celebration of Lent; in Spain, the first Sunday of Lent, "Piñata Sunday", became a celebration known as the Dance of the Piñata. As the word's Italian origin indicates, pignatta (also pignata and pignàta) meaning "earthenware cooking pot", the Spanish initially used a plain clay container, before starting to decorate it with ribbons, tinsel and colored paper. The origin of the Italian word is thought to be linked to the Latin word pinea, "pine cone". [1] [5]

Lent Christian observance

Lent is a solemn religious observance in the Christian liturgical calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approximately six weeks later on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. The purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer for Easter through prayer, doing penance, mortifying the flesh, repentance of sins, almsgiving, and denial of ego. This event is observed in the Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, Moravian, Oriental Orthodox, Reformed, and Roman Catholic Churches. Some Anabaptist and evangelical churches also observe the Lenten season.

The European piñata tradition was brought to Mexico in the 16th century; however, there was a similar tradition in Mesoamerica already. The Mayan tradition was similar to the modern piñata tradition, including blindfolding the participant hitting the piñata. The Aztec tradition commemorated the birthday of Huitzilopochtli. Priests would decorate a clay pot with colorful feathers. When the pot was broken with a stick or club, the treasures inside would fall to the feet of the idol as an offering. [1] According to local records, the piñata was first used for the purposes of evangelism in 1586, in Acolman, in the modern State of Mexico, just north of Mexico City. The Augustinian monks there modified European piñatas and created the Las Posadas tradition to co-opt the celebration of the birth of Huitzilopochtli, which was celebrated in mid December. [4] [6] [7] [8]

Maya civilization Mesoamerican former civilization

The Maya civilization was a Mesoamerican civilization developed by the Maya peoples, and noted for its logosyllabic script—the most sophisticated and highly developed writing system in pre-Columbian Americas—as well as for its art, architecture, mathematics, calendar, and astronomical system. The Maya civilization developed in an area that encompasses southeastern Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador. This region consists of the northern lowlands encompassing the Yucatán Peninsula, and the highlands of the Sierra Madre, running from the Mexican state of Chiapas, across southern Guatemala and onwards into El Salvador, and the southern lowlands of the Pacific littoral plain. The overarching term "Maya" is a modern collective term that refers to the peoples of the region, however, the term was not used by the indigenous populations themselves since there never was a common sense of identity or political unity among the distinct populations.

Acolman Town & Municipality in State of Mexico, Mexico

Acolman de Nezahualcóyotl is a town and municipality located in the northern part of Mexico State, part of the Greater Mexico City area, just north of the city proper. According to myth, the first man was placed here after being taken out of Lake Texcoco. In the community of Tepexpan, the fossilized bones more than 12,000 years old of a man were found in the 20th century. The settlement was founded in the 8th century and was an important commerce center at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. After the Conquest, Acolman became the site of an important Augustinian monastery in the 16th century which still contains important art and architecture from that time period.

State of Mexico State of Mexico

The State of Mexico is one of the 32 federal entities of Mexico. It is the most populous, as well as the most densely populated state. It is divided into 125 municipalities and its capital city is Toluca de Lerdo.

The Mexican Catholic interpretation of the piñata rested on the struggle of man against temptation. The seven points represent the seven deadly sins. The pot represents evil and the seasonal fruit and candy inside the temptations of evil. The person with the stick is blindfolded to represent faith. The turning, singing and shouting represent the disorientation that temptation creates. In some traditions, the participant is turned thirty three times, one for each year of Christ's life. These interpretations were given to the piñata for catechism purposes. As the participant beats the piñata, it is supposed to represent the struggle against temptation and evil. When the piñata breaks, the treats inside then represent the rewards of keeping the faith. [3] [7] [9]

Catholic Church in Mexico

The Catholic Church in Mexico is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope, his Curia in Rome and the national Mexican Episcopal Conference. The history of the Catholic Church in Mexico dates from the period of the Spanish conquest (1519–21) and has continued as an institution in Mexico into the twenty-first century. In the late 20th century, Eastern Catholic jurisdictions were established in Mexico.

However, since this time the piñata has all but lost its religious significance and has become popular in many types of celebrations, not just during December's Las Posadas. The clay pot has been replaced with a papier-mâché container. [3] The creation of piñatas has even taken on an artistic aspect in some areas. David Gamez and Cecilia Meade sponsored a showing of piñatas as art rather than just as a party favor. The event was called Piñatarama, with 25 piñatas made of papier-mâché at the Vértigo Galería in Mexico City, all original works of art by graphic illustrators, from 23 countries including Australia. Some of the illustrators who participated include 1000 Changos, Allan Sieber, Apak, Ben Newman, Cecy Meade, Cristian Turdera, Cupco and Daniel Berman. [10] In Tepatitlán, the world's largest traditional seven-pointed piñata was created in 2010. It measures 11.2 meters, is made of fiberglass and weighs 350 kilograms. It surpasses the former Guinness record holder which was made in 2008 in Pennsylvania. [11]

Apak is a Turkish masculine given name and surname. It may refer to:

<i>Guinness World Records</i> Reference book listing world records

Guinness World Records, known from its inception from 1955 until 2000 as The Guinness Book of Records and in previous United States editions as The Guinness Book of World Records, is a reference book published annually, listing world records both of human achievements and the extremes of the natural world. The brainchild of Sir Hugh Beaver, the book was co-founded by twin brothers Norris and Ross McWhirter in Fleet Street, London, in August 1954.

Pennsylvania U.S. state in the United States

Pennsylvania, officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a state located in the Northeastern, Great Lakes, and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The Appalachian Mountains run through its middle. The Commonwealth is bordered by Delaware to the southeast, Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, Lake Erie and the Canadian province of Ontario to the northwest, New York to the north, and New Jersey to the east.

Piñatas in Mexico

A coral reef pinata which won the 2013 contest of the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City Pinata2013MAP01.JPG
A coral reef piñata which won the 2013 contest of the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City

The piñata is most strongly identified with Mexico. [9] The art of making modern piñatas falls under the Mexican craft heading of "cartonería", which refers to the making of items from paper and cardboard. This puts piñatas in the same category as amate paper craft, Judas figures and Mexico City style alebrijes. [12] The Museo de Arte Popular held the first "Concurso de Piñatas Mexicanas" (Mexican Piñata Contest) in 2007 with prizes of 15,000, 10,000 and 5,000 pesos. The purpose of the contest is to help retain this tradition and help it to be continued to be valued. [3] The Museo del Caracol in Mexico City held a workshop on how to make traditional piñatas, as part of its outreach program to the public. [4]

While the religious significance has been mostly lost, the ceremony that occurs with it has remained mostly intact. Piñatas remain most popular during Las Posadas with birthday parties coming in second. Each participant, usually a child, will have a turn at hitting the piñata, which is hung from above on a string. The participant is blindfolded, given a wooden stick, and then spun a number of times. As the participants works to hit the piñata, another moves it to make it harder to hit. There is a time limit to any one person's attempts, which is marked out by the singing of a traditional song. [1] [9]

Clay pots specially made for the creation of pinatas Ollas pinateras.JPG
Clay pots specially made for the creation of piñatas

Piñatas were traditionally made with a clay pot base and many artisans make a living selling just the pot for people to decorate as they wish. However, clay pot piñatas have mostly been replaced by those made with cardboard and paper mache, usually fashioned over balloons. [1] One reason for this is that broken pot pieces can be dangerous to children. [13] These are then decorated with crepe paper, other colored paper and other items. [9] Piñatas today come in all shapes and sizes, with many representing cartoon or other characters known to most children. Popular shapes today can include Batman, Superman, Spider-Man or characters based on popular movies and television shows such as Nemo, the Lion King and more. For Christmas, the traditional style with the points is popular as it is associated with the Star of Bethlehem. [1] [9] However, for the most part, piñata designs have been completely commercialized. [9]

Courtyard of the Government Palace of Chihuahua decorated for Christmas. Courtyard Palacio Gobierno Christmas 07.jpg
Courtyard of the Government Palace of Chihuahua decorated for Christmas.

Traditionally in Mexico, especially at Christmas, piñatas are filled with fruit and candies such as guavas, oranges, jicamas, pieces of sugar cane, tejocotes and wrapped candies. Some piñatas are "traps" filled with flour, confetti or water. Special baskets of treats may be given to children who come up empty handed after a piñata is broken. These are called colaciónes and are given to prevent hurt feelings. [1]

There are a number of localities in Mexico that specialize in the making of piñatas for sale. Acolman, the origin of piñatas, along with neighboring Otumba are one. [8] Acolman hosts an annual National Piñata Fair. This event includes cultural events, workshops on the making of piñatas, piñata contests and traditional Posadas. The event has attracted as many as 100,000 visitors over the days that it is held, many of whom come from Mexico City. [6]

About 400 families in the town of San Juan de la Puerta, in the south of the Cuerámaro municipality in Guanajuato, are dedicated to the creation of piñatas, and produce about 16,000 pieces each month. The making of piñatas supports about half of the people in the town. It is the second most important economic activity after agriculture. This tradition began in 1960 by Juan Remigio Anguiano, who brought the craft to the town after living in Mexico City. Today, piñatas from the town are sold in various parts of the state. [14]

In the penal facility of Huajuapan de León, prisoners make piñatas to sell. This began when several prisoners brought the craft with them when they were incarcerated about twenty years ago. These piñatas have become traditional for the population of the city for Christmas. [2]

The busiest time for the sale of piñatas in Mexico is December for posadas. During bad economic times, sales of piñatas can fall as much as thirty percent as they did in 2008. [13]

Store in Tabasco selling both traditional star-shape and contemporary design pinatas. Pinatas tabasquenas.jpg
Store in Tabasco selling both traditional star-shape and contemporary design piñatas.

The star shape, or ball with points, still remains popular for the Christmas season, but for other events, traditional designs for children such as donkeys, have almost entirely been replaced by cartoon characters based on U.S. movies and television shows. [15] However, most of the piñatas produced based on these images are not done following copyright law, which has caused problems. Copyright holders such as Marvel Comics have complained about infringement by piñata makers in Mexico. Federal authorities have responded by seizing such merchandise in stores in various areas of Mexico City. Vendors complain that they have sold these pinatas for decades and never have had problems. [16] Those who have run into problems with copyright law state that it is difficult to sell other types as most customers prefer to buy those based on popular characters. [17] Mexico exports piñatas to the United States and other parts of the world,) but copyright has been an issue here as well. [17] [18] Piñatas based on Disney and other characters have been seized at the border for violating U.S. copyright law. [18] [19] Some have also been seized and destroyed by customs agents under suspect of hiding drugs. [20]

One niche market for piñatas in Mexico is of those themed for adults. These include political figures, especially those who are not particularly liked. [1] [15] Another type for the adult market are sexually-themed piñatas, mostly those in the form of exotic dancers and strippers. Of the female of this type, the most popular are blondes. For the male, darker shades are preferred. [17] [21] These piñatas will be filled with adult items such as condoms in addition to candy. [21]

Piñatas are similarly popular in a number of other Latin American countries as well. [8] [22]

Piñatas in the United States

Girl striking pinata in carport of California home 1961 - 1.jpg
Girl striking pinata in carport of California home 1961 - 2.jpg
Girls striking a piñata in a California carport, 1961
Children playing in a sweets pinata Ninos jugando en pinata.jpg
Children playing in a sweets piñata

They have also become popular in Mexican-American and other Hispanic and Latino communities in the United States as well. Piñatas are used for birthday parties, Christmas and Cinco de Mayo celebrations. [22] [23] [24] [25]

The 2006 video game Viva Piñata is about a world where piñatas compete to be chosen for children's birthday parties. A spinoff television show, also titled Viva Piñata was created to push sales of the Xbox game created by Microsoft. [26]

Similar traditions


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. [27]

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, 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. [28]

In South Indian villages, festivals feature a competition called Uri adithal (Pot breaking with blindfold) which closely resembles the piñata event. [29]

In Japan, a similar game called suikawari is played where a watermelon shell is used.[ citation needed ]

In the Philippines, a similar game called hampas-palayok or pukpok-palayok [30] (hit-the-pot) is played during Filipino fiestas and traditional parties (e.g., birthdays), in which a clay pot filled with treats and/or prizes is used. Also đập nêu (pot-hitting) appears in Vietnamese traditional custom.

See also

Related Research Articles

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Museo de Arte Popular museum in Mexico City, Mexico

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Mercado de Sonora

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Rodolfo Villena Hernández Mexican cartonería

Rodolfo Villena Hernández is a Mexican artisan who specializes in “cartonería” a type of hard paper mache used to sculpt piñatas, holiday decorations, Judas figures as well as the building of monumental works which have been exhibited in Puebla, Mexico City and Chicago. He has also been involved in theater. His work has been recognized with various awards over his career.

Handcrafts and folk art in Mexico City

Handcrafts and folk art in Mexico City is a microcosm of handcraft production in most of the rest of country. One reason for this is that the city has attracted migration from other parts of Mexico, bringing these crafts. The most important handcraft in the city is the working of a hard paper mache called cartonería, used to make piñatas and other items related to various annual celebrations. It is also used to make fantastic creatures called alebrijes, which originated here in the 20th century. While there are handcrafts made in the city, the capital is better known for selling and promoting crafts from other parts of the country, both fine, very traditional wares and inexpensive curio types, in outlets from fine shops to street markets.

Handcrafts and folk art in the State of Mexico craftwork of Edomex

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Handcrafts and folk art in Puebla

Puebla handcrafts and folk art is handcraft and folk art from the Mexican state of Puebla. The best-known craft of Puebla is Talavera pottery—which is the only mayolica style pottery continuously produced in Mexico since it was introduced in the early colonial period. Other notable handcraft traditions include trees of life from Izúcar de Matamoros and amate (bark) paper made by the very small town of San Pablito in the north of the state. The state also makes glass, Christmas tree ornaments, indigenous textiles, monumental clocks, baskets, and apple cider.

Handcrafts and folk art in Tlaxcala

Tlaxcala handcrafts and folk art is that which comes from the smallest state in Mexico, located in the center-east of the country. Its best-known wares are the "canes of Apizaco", sawdust carpets and the making of Saltillo-style serapes. However, there are other handcraft traditions, such as the making of pottery, including Talavera type wares, cartoneria, metalworking and stone working. The state supports artisans through the activities of the Fideicomiso Fondo de la Casa de las Artesanía de Tlaxcala

Christmas traditions in New Mexico are influenced by Spanish, Native American, Mexican and Anglo-American traditions.


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