History of the Piñata

The origin of the piñata is thought to date back over 700 years ago to Asia. Marco Polo discovered the Chinese fashioning figures of cows, oxen or even buffaloes, covering them with colored paper and adorning them with harnesses and trappings to greet the New Year. When they knocked the figure hard with sticks of various colors, seeds spilled forth. The remains were then burned and people gathered the ashes to bring good luck throughout the year.

When the custom passed into Europe in the 14th century, it was adapted to the celebration of Lent. The first Sunday became ‘Piñata Sunday’. The Italian word ‘pignatta’ means “fragile pot.” Originally, piñatas fashioned without a base resembled clay containers used for carrying water.

The custom then spread to Spain, the first Sunday in Lent becoming 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.

At the beginning of the 14th century the Spanish missionaries to North America used the piñata to attract converts to their ceremonies. However the indigenous peoples already had a similar tradition. To celebrate the birthday of the Aztec god of war, Huitzilopochtli, priests placed a clay pot on a pole in the temple at year’s end. Colorful feathers adorned the richly decorated pot, filled with tiny treasures. When it was broken with a stick or club, the treasures fell to the feet of the god’s image as an offering. The Mayans, great lovers of sport, also played a game where the player’s eyes were covered while hitting a clay pot suspended by string.

The missionaries ingeniously transformed these games for religious instruction. They covered the traditional pot with colored paper, giving it an extraordinary, perhaps fearful appearance.

The original & traditional piñata has seven points symbolizing the seven deadly sins: envy, sloth, gluttony, greed, lust, anger/wrath, and pride. The ten pointed piñata symbolizes the sins that come from breaking the Ten Commandments.

The stick which is used to break the pinata represents and symbolizes love. It is supposed to destroy the sins by hitting and breaking the pinata into pieces. The candies and treats that come pouring out from the broken piñata symbolize the forgiveness of sins and a new beginning.

As we come together to celebrate Cincy-Cinco, we honor a tradition that is over 700 years old. And we add a new chapter by making the world’s largest piñata.