We all know the pinata. And when we think of it, for the most part, we think of this:
A birthday party with a pinata stung high as someone is blindfolded and tries to take their best shot. And in that, we think of Mexican culture and other similarly popularized and appropriated things. But pinata’s aren’t actually Mexican as we fully associate them.
They are a part of many family traditions but many debate that the origins of the pinata came from China first, as it is the birthplace of paper. This tradition was used to commemorate the New Year with the shape of animals more familiar to the culture such as Ox or Sheep. It follows that around the 14th century, the pinata traveled to Europe as the etymology of the word pinata is from the Italian word pignatta, meaning pot. In the 16th century, it was brought to Mexico. However, Children and Youth in History note that a similar custom already existed. To honor Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, the indigenous people would bring colorfully decored and stuffed clay pots to the temple to break them at the feet of the statue. The custom was then shifted to incorporate the missionaries’ traditions of using paper pinatas.
This site also states that “a traditional Mexican shape for piñatas is a spherical shape with seven conical points symbolizing the seven deadly sins—greed, gluttony, sloth, pride, envy, wrath, and lust. Inside the piñata, however, were tempting sweets and treats, representing the pleasures of life. The person wielding the stick of virtue represents faith, which can defeat evil, and the treats represented the hope of reward”.
When we think of these paper beating-bags today, they’re so heavily associated with Mexican culture. Often times it’s one of the first object signifier a person will call out aside from a sombrero. Although there are origins in Meso-America, what we know as the pinata has changed through time and encounters with other peoples. What is more interesting is the fact that across the world, both China and Mexico can display similar traditions. It makes you wonder how different any of us are after all.