The history of the piñata isn’t exactly complex but the historical origin is somewhat of a debate. From what can gather of the theoretical origins we are aware of what can gleam is that the piñata we know of today was likely Chinese, but was also developed in other areas.
Regardless of it’s origin, the piñata is now a tradition shared by the whole world. We hope to shed some light on this topic that looks beyond the story and celebration of Las Posadas and really dives into the origin of the tradition.
We wanted to advise our readers that this subject does involve discussion about Catholic Church traditions, so for our audience that may be adverse to topics about the subject please consider this your warning.
As we mentioned before piñata’s, as we know them, is likely Chinese in origin. Marco Polo discovered the Chinese fashioning figures of cows, oxen or buffaloes, covered with colored paper and adorned with harnesses and trappings. Special colors traditionally greeted the New Year.
This custom passed into Europe in the 14th century where it adapted to the celebrations of Lent. The first Sunday became ‘Piñata Sunday’. The Italian word ‘pignatta’ means “fragile pot.” Originally, piñatas fashioned without a base resembled clay containers for carrying water.
When the custom spread to Spain, the first Sunday in Lent became a fiesta called the ‘Dance of the Piñata’. The Spanish used a clay container called la olla, the Spanish word for pot. At first, la olla was not decorated. Later, ribbons, tinsel and fringed paper were added and wrapped around the pot.
According to local records, the piñata was first used for the purposes of Christianity 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.
At the beginning of the 16th century the Spanish missionaries to North America used the piñata to attract converts to their ceremonies. However indigenous peoples already had a similar tradition. To celebrate the birthday of the Aztec deity, Huitzilopochtli, a clay pot was placed on a pole in the temple at year’s end. Colorful feathers adorned the richly decorated pot, filled with various trinkets. When broken with a stick or club, the treasures fell to the feet of the Huitzilopochtli image as an offering.
The Spanish missionaries took full advantage of the similarities San used them as a tool for religious conversion by transforming it over years to what we now know as Las Posadas.
This implantation of the Christian ideology marked the attempted erasure of any trace of the indigenous beliefs.
“Piñata History and Meaning” by Suzanne Barbezat