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2.8.2021 – Samie talks about the history and significance of piñatas

Star piñata

Piñatas are a staple item at Latin American, especially Mexican, birthday parties and during Las Posadas, a nine day reenactment of Jesus and Mary searching for an open room in any of Bethlehem’s inns. They come in a variety of colorful shapes and you have most likely seen at least one Peppa Pig piñata in your life, but did you know that the original piñatas were probably from China? China is thought to have created the first piñatas as Marco Polo (in the 13th century) wrote about civilians breaking open colorful figures of cows with sticks to reveal the seeds that were hidden inside to celebrate the New Year. Spain caught onto this tradition during the 14thcentury and used similar figures to celebrate the first Sunday of Lent.

You may have thought that piñatas were brought to Mexico by the Spanish conquistadors as a way to convert the Aztecs to Catholicism, but the conquistadors were met with a big surprise when they arrived. The Aztecs already had their own version of the piñata, which was used to celebrate the birthdays of their gods! The Aztec version was made with a small clay pot that was decorated with colorful feathers and filled with treats.  The decorated pot would then be placed on a pole and it would be broken with a stick. Sound familiar at all?

Of course, the Spanish conquistadors added their Catholic flair to the Aztec piñata and the small clay pot was transformed into a star with seven points! Each point represents a mortal sin and the actual piñata represents Satan. The treats found inside represent all of Satan’s temptations and the blindfold also has a special meaning! It is meant to represent the blind faith in God and the stick that is used to break the piñata is the only thing that can defeat Satan, which is virtue.

Things have definitely changed since the 13th century when Marco Polo first saw the original piñatas, and now you can buy them in the form of Dora the Explorer and unicorns! This 700-year-old tradition can even be found here in Chicago. Mexican-Americans are still participating in this tradition and if you have ever passed by a Dulcelandia store while walking through the streets of Chicago, then you have most likely seen their collection of piñatas. They even sell a wide variety of candies that you can use to fill your piñata! If you want to add a special element to your next birthday party, then a piñata could be the perfect addition to spice up your party!