It's unknown where
piñatas 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 piñatas
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 piñatas 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 piñata takes about 5 days, and it's messy work, but children
love them, so it's all worthwhile. You will need:
Very large 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
Plain white 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 piñata with acrylic paints or fabric paints, and/or tiny pieces
of tissue paper glued on with a glue stick.
Suspend the piñata 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 piñata 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 piñata 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