It is believed that piñatas where first invented in China, where one could find them shaped into different animals, covered in colors, harnesses and trappings. The Chinese used them to welcome the New Year, as tradition consisted of filling them with seeds, hitting them with sticks and then burning the remains. Ashes would provide them good fortune.
Meanwhile in Mexico… The Aztecs, had a similar tradition for the celebration of Huitzilopochtli, the goddess of war. A clay pot, decorated with colorful feathers, was placed close to the goddess’ image, filled with treasures and a stick lying next to. The pot has then broken with the stick, so that all the treasures remained at Huitzilopochtli’s feet as an offering. In the southern part of Mexico, the Mayans, played a game for which a clay pot was suspended by a string, and players will use a stick to try to hit it while blind-folded.
It was later when the Spanish missionaries arrived on American soil to evangelize the indigenous civilizations that the different traditions mixed.
Traditional piñatas are star-shaped with seven points; These are used around Christmas time and represent the struggle of man against temptation. The bright colors symbolize the mask the devil uses to attract humanity; the seven points are the deadly sins: greed, gluttony, sloth, pride, envy, wrath and lust; and the candies and fruits inside represent the earthly pleasures. The participants are then blindfolded, spun around and then given a stick to hit the piñata to get rid of evil and all its temptations (1)(2).
For others the piñata means “hope”, and the breaking of this mean that only good can overcome evil, candies and fruits serve as a reward for keeping faith. It also represents “charity”, because its divine blessings and gifts are shared by everybody that is around. That’s why they are also very popular on birthday celebrations!