where piņatas originated. Some believe they are a Chinese invention,
taken to Italy by Marco Polo. What is known is that in the 14th
century, the Italian "pignatta" became associated with Carnevale
before Lent because it was then that a clay pot shaped like a dove
began to be suspended over the Carnevale crowd and smashed to shower
down treats ("pignatta" means "clay pot"). The pre-Lenten practice
spread to Spain and was taken by Spanish missionaries to the New World.
There, the priests fashioned piņatas to represent Satan, and
seven-pointed stars representing the Seven Deadly Sins, so that beating
them would be, in part, a bit of religious instruction and a defiance
of evil. The rewards, as a sign of faith rewarded, would attract the
natives to their sermons.
Nowadays, most piņatas are usually made of papier-mache and are
associated most strongly with Mexico (though they are still used in
Italy and Spain, too). In Mexico, they are seen at most celebrations,
especially around Christmas.
To make a piņata takes about 5 days, and it's messy work, but children
love them, so it's all worthwhile. You will need:
balloon, smaller balloons of different shapes, cardboard tubes,
cardboard with the thickness of shoebox cardboard, and other things to
form the shape
torn, crosswise, into 2" wide strips
paper torn into strips
Flour and water
mixed to a pancake batter consistency
tissue paper and a glue stick (liquid glue is too wet) and/or
acrylic or fabric paints
peanuts, trinkets, etc., to fill
Blow up the
large balloon to form the basic shape, such as the body if making an
animal (don't blow it up too full). Arrange with other balloons,
cardboard tubes, cones and other shaped formed from shoebox-thick
cardboard, etc., to refine shape and create legs, arms, horns, points,
etc. -- whatever your shape requires -- and lightly tape them together
to keep the shape.
Dip strips of newspaper into the flour-water mixture and lay a layer
over the form, slightly overlapping as you go, until the form is fully
covered. Let dry. The next day, repeat the process, adding another
layer over the layer already made. Do the same for 4 or 5 days -- using
plain white paper on the last day -- until you have a nice, solid shape
made of many layers of paper. When fully dry, cut a two inch circle in
the top of the main section, popping and removing the main balloon, and
fill up with the candies and trinkets. Replace the two-inch circle you
removed, and tape into place, and then decorate the piņata with acrylic
paints or fabric paints, and/or tiny pieces of tissue paper glued on
with a glue stick.
Suspend the piņata from a rope so that it can be raised and lowered as
the children strike at it. This makes the game more challenging!
Blindfold one child at a time, spin him around a few times, and then
let him whack at the piņata as the crowd shouts directions ("Up
higher!" Lower!" Go right! You're getting colder!" etc.). After he's
had three chances, repeat with the next child until the piņata is
finally broken open. When that finally happens, the children will
scramble to gather up as much of the treats as they can. To ensure that
no child is left out, set aside some extra candy beforehand so that all
children will have some at the end of the game.