Although originally believed to be of Chinese origin, the tradition of breaking open decorated clay pots to reveal tokens of good luck gained popularity in Europe in the 1300s in the form of the Italian pignatta. These “fragile pots,” known as piñas in Spain (“pineapples,” for the shape of the clay pot base) were quickly adapted from the Mandarin New Year observance and adopted into Catholic tradition as an integral part of the celebration of Lent.
Two hundred years later, Spanish missionaries used the tradition to engage the indigenous people of North America and attract them to Catholicism. The Aztecs already had a similar practice in the worship of Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, in which they filled clay pots with small treasures and decorated them with colored feathers. Hoisted up over the temple and then broken open, the little gifts fell to the feet of the figure of Huitzilopochtli as offerings. A Mayan version, more for sport, involved being blindfolded while trying to hit a pot suspended by string.
The Catholic missionaries took these Mayan and Aztec practices and redefined them as tools in religious instruction. The new piñatas, called canteros (temptations) were covered in ostentatious decoration and used to represent Satan – notorious for attracting people with beguiling and beautiful masks. No longer just a clay pot, they were fashioned with seven points, to represent each of the seven deadly sins, or pecados. Filled inside with fruits and sweets, they symbolized the temptation of sinful pleasures that the blindfolded – and blindly faithful – participant was meant to fight against. Once the person swinging at the piñata was able to break it open, encouraged by crowds and songs, the treats would rain down on the participants, illustrating the ultimate lesson – that faith would always be rewarded.
Over the years, the religious symbolism waned, and the piñata became more of a celebratory staple of birthdays and Christmas parties. In the markets near Hacienda Petac you can still find the clay pots used to make traditional piñatas, but below are modified instructions, which are most similar to the way we teach our youngest guests to make piñatas here at the Hacienda!
Below You will Learn How to Make a Piñata!
The materials you will need:
– flour and water to make paper mâché paste
– vegetable oil
– strips of newspaper
– strips of white paper (or paper towels)
– tissue paper, crepe paper, ribbon, etc
- Making piñatas can be a mess! Cover the table with plastic or extra newspaper and wear old clothes for this project.
- First you will need the paper mâché paste. Mix one part flour, two parts water together until the consistency is like glue. (Alternately, for a stronger fixative, you can mix one part flour to five parts water and boil it for a few minutes. Let it cool, then add a bit of salt to help avoid mold.)
- Once you have decided on the shape of your piñata, blow up the balloon (or balloons) to create the structure of the piñata. Of course, if you are using more than one balloon, you will have to tape or glue them together. Once you have the basic structure, spray the balloon with some vegetable oil to help prevent the balloon from sticking to the newspaper when it is ultimately popped.
- Dip strips of newspaper into the paper mâché paste and place them on the surface of the balloon in overlapping layers. Lay some on diagonally, some vertically, and continue until the balloon is completely covered. Don’t forget to leave a small space near the top. This is where you’ll pop the balloon from and how you’ll put treats in the piñata later on!
- Now, you must wait for it to dry. Here is where patience comes in. The first layer of paper mâché must be completely dry before you add any more. Let it sit overnight; it may take a full 24 hours.
- Once it has dried, repeat the same layering process, being certain to alternate the direction of the strips of paper. Let the second layer dry.
- For the third layer, repeat the same process, but with strips of white paper, not the newspaper strips. This is just to make decorating and painting easier.
- Once the third layer has dried, you can pop the interior balloon, and remove it from the space you left at the top of the piñata.
- Decorate your piñata as you wish! Paint, tinsel, crepe paper, streamers, whatever you would like!
- Once the decorative part has dried, you can fill your piñata with little toys and candies. To hang it, make a few holes near the top and thread strong string through the holes. Tape may help secure it. Hang from someplace high and let the fun begin!