There are at least two popular theories for the origin of the piñata. One is that the Aztec celebration of the birth of the god Huitzilopochtli involved a rite using a container similar to the piñata. According to Drink Cultura: "During the ceremonies, a feather-covered pot was filled with small treasures and hit with a stick so that its contents spilled at the feet of the idol."
The other legend says that the piñata originated in China where Marco Polo saw it and brought it back to Italy. The Chinese version was typically a hollow effigy of a farm animal filled with seeds.
In Italy the "pignatta," as it became to be known, was popularized by a game played by Roman soldiers who would hang clay pots and try to hit the pots with their swords while blindfolded. This game spread to Spain where it became a Lenten tradition. Mexico’s first documented piñata was hung up in Acolman in the 16th century. The monks of the Acolman church were looking for a way to Christianize the December festival celebrating the birth of the Aztec god, Huitzlipochtli. The monks held a festival from December 16 to December 24, 1587. During this festival a piñata was hung.
Original piñatas were clay pots covered with papier-mâché and ribbons. These piñatas had seven paper spikes symbolizing the seven cardinal sins. Because of the tradition of the piñata started in Acolman, the town became a major manufacturer of piñatas. But piñata making is disappearing in Acolman; there are now only two workshops that produce piñatas.
Burciaga, José Antonio Drink Cutura: Chicanismo. Santa Barbara, Calif: Capra Press, 1993. page 76.
“Piñata-making fading in town where it was born.” Tucson Citizen, February 11, 2005. Page B9
MexConnect. "History of the Piñata, opens a new window."
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