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Unwrapping the History of the Christmas Piñata

I love la Navidad (Christmas)! It's a great time to spend time with family and friends, to share traditions and make new ones. It's also a great time to share my culture and heritage with my girls. We recently had a "Posada" where we celebrated Christmas with other Mexican families, and it gave me the opportunity to make my own piñata! You can watch the full video of how I did it on Instagram here.

It was also an opportunity to exaplain the origins of the Piñata to my family. So if you don't know where the story of the Piñata comes from, here is the story!

A clay pot of brownish colour sits on a rustic shelve
Old style clay pot

For context, it's important to remember that long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, Aztecs, Mayans, and other indigenous peoples had a rich tapestry of traditions and rituals that celebrated life, nature, and the changing seasons. One such tradition involved a pot made of clay, symbolizing the gods' favor and the bounty of the earth. They would fill the pot with colorful feathers, precious stones, and other symbolic offerings and would then break it during festivities to honour the god Huitzilopochtli.

When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century, they were captivated by the piñata tradition. Recognizing its potential as a tool for spreading Christian teachings, they adapted the concept to fit the Christmas season. It was at that time that the current shape of the Mexican piñata took place. Friars in Acolman de Nezahualcoyotl, in Estado de México, began to do big masses, which came to be known as "posadas" in the days before

A large piñata made of lights hangs in the middle of a street between buildings.
Piñata en una ciudad de Mexico

Christmas. They took the piñata and added seven points to represent the seven deadly sins and covered it with bright colours which is meant to represent temptation. Then they filled it with peanuts, fruits, and little candies and toys. When it was your turn to hit the pi;ata you were blindfolded, to symbolize that faith is blind and the stick represented strong will. Participants took turns hitting the pi;ata until it broke, symbolizing faith overcoming temptation.

Christmas ornaments made of clay in the shape of piñatas hang next to each other.
Piñata ornaments

Crafting a Christmas piñata is a true art form: it takes time, craft, and a lot of patience! Skilled artisans create these festive structures by layering papier-mâché over a frame, intricately shaping them into animals, flowers, or other festive symbols. The piñata is then

brightly colored and adorned with fringed paper, reflecting the vibrant spirit of Mexican culture.

Two boys carry a nativity scene during a procession before a posada
Nativity scene carried by two boys during a posada

Now, let's fast forward to modern-day Mexico during the Christmas season. One of the most cherished traditions is the celebration of Las Posadas, a reenactment of Mary and Joseph's search for shelter before the birth of Jesus. During the nine nights leading up to Christmas Eve, communities come together to sing carols, share food, and partake in the festive piñata tradition.

In the spirit of Las Posadas, a procession is formed, led by individuals carrying images of Mary and Joseph. As the group travels from house to house, they sing traditional songs and request shelter in a ritual known as "pedir posada" or asking for lodging. At each stop, the host house denies them entry until the final night, when they are welcomed with open arms.

After the posada reenactment, the real fun begins—the breaking of the piñata! A designated person, often a child, is blindfolded to represent the faith that overcomes obstacles. With a stick in hand, they take turns attempting to break open the piñata, which

is suspended from above. The cheers and laughter intensify as the blindfolded participant swings and misses, until finally, with a triumphant hit, the piñata bursts open, showering the ground with sweets, fruits, and small toys.

The piñata holds deep symbolism in Mexican culture. Its vibrant colors represent the joy of the Christmas season, and the blindfolded participant represents the importance of faith in facing life's challenges. The act of breaking the piñata symbolizes the triumph of good over evil, a lesson that resonates through the ages.

And there you have it, the enchanting history of the Christmas piñata in Mexico. From its ancient roots in indigenous traditions to its transformation into a symbol of holiday cheer, the piñata continues to bring joy and laughter to families across Mexico during the festive season. So, as you celebrate this Christmas, remember the rich history and symbolism behind the piñata, and may your holiday season be filled with the spirit of love, joy, and unity! ¡Feliz Navidad!


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