I often get asked about the history and origins of piñatas. Piñatas have been a part of traditional Mexican celebrations for centuries, and usually consist of a hollow shape, like a donkey, a star or simply a ball, decorated with brightly colored tissue paper fringes. The shapes are constructed from papier-mâché—French for “chewed-paper”—small pieces of paper and paste that harden when dry. Piñatas are traditionally filled with candies and confetti and hung from the ceiling. Blindfolded party-goers then hit the hanging piñata with a stick, raining treats and tinsel all over!
History of the Piñata
Although they are associated with Mexican celebrations piñatas may not originate in just Mexico. In early China there existed a tradition of making hollow decorated figures of cows and oxen to celebrate the New Year, these figures were filled with seeds and smashed to symbolize good luck and good crops. Early explorers like Marco Polo saw this and brought the tradition to Europe. In Italian “pignatta” means “fragile pot” and early piñatas were in fact made with clay and decorated with tinsel and ribbon. These fun festival creations soon spread to Spain where the first Sunday of Lent became known as the “Dance of the Piñata.”
The Spanish carried this tradition to Mexico in order to lure Aztecs into converting to Catholicism, but the Aztecs had a similar tradition where they decorated clay pots with bright feathers, filled them with treasure and smashed them to celebrate the birthday of the Aztec God of War.
Is it Art?
Piñatas are lightweight sculptures that serve a purpose, just like high fashion or graphic design. Humorous and festive, they are meant to mark celebrations. Fun, funny and functional, my piñatas bridge the gap between art and craft.