By Monica Belen
In every children's birthday party in Mexico or in the world where there is a Mexican, there are piñatas, wholesale noise at the singing of the song that guides the child who hits the piñata blindfolded, breaks it, candy and toys fall from its interior, all the children jump to the ground to pick up the loot, everyone laughs and take their arms full of surprises. That's what it's like to be around a piñata. The whole year is piñata season, however, December is the month of piñatas, in Mexico there is no Christmas without piñatas.
But what is its origin? As everything has a history, the Chinese were the first to use something similar to the piñata in their New Year's celebration, which also marked the beginning of spring. They made figures of cows, bulls and buffaloes covered with colored paper and filled with five types of seeds symbolizing abundance. To break them, they used colored sticks. The decorative paper was then burned, and the ashes were collected and kept for good luck in every way during the coming year.
How did they pass to Latin America? It is believed that in the 13th century Marco Polo brought the custom from China to Italy. There, they gave it a spherical shape and called it pignatta which means "clay pot in the shape of the fruit of the pine tree" and this from the Latin pinea. This Latin word gave us pineapple something to mean being fat, swollen, and they filled it with sweets, instead of seeds. With trade and travel it spread to Spain, where it was given to break piñatas on the first Sunday of Lent. It was the Spanish missionaries who brought the piñata to Mexico during the Conquest in the first decades of the 1500s.
However, the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan, the Aztecs, celebrated at the end of the harvest season the birth of one of their main gods, the God of War Huitzilopochtli or Left Hummingbird, they placed a prodigiously decorated clay pot inside the Temple filled with valuable objects, then it was broken with a stick as an offering.
To evangelize the indigenous people, the Spanish missionaries used this syncretism to represent the struggle between good, the church, the faithful, and evil, sin, the sinner. From those days the piñata was a clay pot lined with colored paper, with the figure of a seven-pointed star with strips of paper at each end representing the seven deadly sins. The blindfold that is still placed on the eyes of whoever hits it symbolizes the blind faith that is guided by virtue and willpower to overcome evil and the gifts that emerge from inside the piñata are the gift, the prizes received for the struggle undertaken.
Currently piñatas have the most diverse forms from the traditional star to Disney or political characters, they are used in any type of party and have lost their religious sense and taken a 100% festive meaning.
The place par excellence for the elaboration of piñatas is Acolman in the state of Mexico, where the first posada and piñata took place in 1587, a place only 45 minutes away from the capital of the country where the Annual Piñata Fair is held and is nationally recognized as the main producer of piñatas in the country, this year celebrates 36 years of being held. It is estimated that more than 400,000 piñatas are made each year. Their prices range from 30 pesos, something like 1.5 dlls to 2000 or 3000 pesos, 100 or 150 dlls. We cannot forget the famous engrudo, it is the natural glue used to glue the piñata decoration and it is very easy to make, you just mix wheat flour and boiling water, stir until the lumps disappear and that's it, everything sticks...
Breaking the piñata and its elaboration is a 434 year old tradition in Mexico that prevails in spite of time, it unites the family and is par excellence a fun and rewarding experience that is enjoyed more in December during the Christmas holidays in the company of our loved ones. Why don't you make a piñata? Here are the instructions:
Inflate the balloon to the size you want the piñata, place it on a base that allows you to maneuver without moving, prepare the paste, water, wheat flour, boil it and keep stirring until it has no lumps, wait until it cools a little, not too much because it spoils. Then cut the newspaper into pieces as you like and with your hands spread it with paste, glue it to the balloon, so layer after layer to make it more resistant to shocks, once you are satisfied with the hardness and thickness, let it dry, it usually takes 24 hrs. The next day you decorate it as you like with colored paper and paste. Let it dry. Once dry, pop the balloon and that's it! You have your piñata, don't forget to fill it with candy or fruit, make some holes at the top for the rope to pass through and hang it up... See, they are not difficult. Ah, don't forget to sing: "Come on, come on, come on, don't lose your wits because if you lose them, you lose your way, you already gave him one, you already gave him two, you already gave him three and your time is up"...