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The Mexican Pinata (Piñata in Spanish) is made with papier mache and cardboard and covered with colored tissue paper fringes; filled with candies, fruits and small toys is hanged from a rope and repeatedly beaten by children with a wooden stick at Christmas Posadas and birthday parties.
For this festival, a clay bull was decorated with colored paper and filled with five different kinds of seeds. The village chief then whipped the ox figurine with a stick until broken, and every villager gathered a slab of the statuette and buried it in his fields to ensure a bountiful harvest.
Marco Polo brought some clay oxen back to Italy; there the concept was adapted to the celebrations of Lent when fruits filled clay pots were broken with a stick.
The first Sunday of Lent became "The Piñata's Sunday". The tradition expanded to other countries in Europe. The word piñata probably comes from the Italian pignata which is believed to mean "pine cone shaped" referring to the clay vessel's shape.
In Spain, the celebration was called Piñata's Dance. Eventually, the clay pot was decorated with ribbons, tinsel and colored paper.
In The New Spain, as a part of the catechizing efforts, San Agustín de Acolman Convent's prior Diego de Soria obtained, in 1587, a Papal Bull from Pope Sixtus V allowing to celebrate Aguinaldos or Christmas Gift Masses from December 16th through the 23th.
These masses, held in the church atriums, were interspersed with Christmas related scenes. To draw a crowd, the Augustinian missionaries used sparklers, fireworks, songs and piñatas.
By the 18th century, secular celebrations known as Las Posadas (The Lodgings) were performed in the neighborhoods from December 16th through the 23th.
Nowadays the celebration begins when neighbors and friends carrying candles and singing visit several houses asking for lodging.
They are refused in the first two houses, but in the third one the congregation is welcomed. The party may include tamales, spirited punch, atole and a piñata.
Around the 1970's, a pinata breaking event was included in kids birthday parties. Therefore, clay pots were substituted by papier mache and cardboard to prevent the heavy pot to fall over the children. This gave the artisans the possibility to create new pinata shapes.
The pinata pounders are blindfolded symbolizing blind faith. The pole symbolizes virtue. When the Piñata is broken temptation is defeated by faith and purity; the candies inside the piñata are the prize obtained for being a faithful Christian.
Traditionally, each participant will take a turn at hitting the pinata which has been hanged from a string and is being moved. The hitter is blindfolded, spun and given the club. The time limit to try breaking the piñata is marked by the traditional song:
Dale, dale, dale, no pierdas el tino porque si lo pierdes, pierdes el camino.
Hit it, hit it, hit it; don't lose your aim because if you lose it you will lose your way.
Nowadays the best selling designs depict popular animation and comics characters as they are the favorites among children. Although Mexico City is the leading producer, piñatas are made everywhere in the country.
At San Juan de la Puerta, Guanajuato, more than 100 families are dedicated to the creation of piñatas, producing about 16,000 pieces each month.