Pinatas are colorful containers made of cardboard, shaped like animals or cartoon characters, and filled with candy and small toys. They’re a favorite game at children’s birthday parties where they’re suspended from a beam with a rope. Party guests are blindfolded and given a baton with which they strike open the pinata in order to release its contents. With pinatas, every party guest gets to share the birthday bounty! Find the widest selection of pinatas and other party supplies on this website.
The name pinata is derived from the Italian word pignatta, meaning clay pot.
Pinatas originated in China. Marco Polo, the famous 14th century Venetian merchant traveler, reported that the Chinese celebrated New Years by fashioning paper figures of harness animals like oxen and buffalo and filling those figures with seeds. The Chinese then beat the figures with sticks to collect the seeds for planting, after which the paper animals were burned.
Marco Polo’s party brought this whimsical idea back to Italy where pinatas, made of clay, quickly became a popular Lenten activity. The first Sunday after the beginning of Lent became known as “Pinata Sunday.” As the custom spread into Spain, Pinata Sunday became a festival known as the Dance of the Pinatas.
Spanish missionaries spread pinatas to the New World where they were received enthusiastically because the indigenous Mayans used a very similar tradition to celebrate the birthday of their war god.
Pinatas in the 17th and 18th centuries had religious connotations that they do not have today. The clay pinata vessel itself was seven-sided to symbolize the Seven Deadly Sins. Decorated with ribbons, streamers and feathers, the pinata represented Satan who so often puts on a beautiful face to tempt the faithful from their devotions. The sweets inside the pinata represented earthly temptations. The blindfolded hitter signified Blind Faith, and he was turned around 33 times before being allowed to hit the pinata with his stick in memory of Christ’s 33 years of life.
Over time, the pinata lost its religious significance. These days in the United States pinatas are most often used to help celebrate children’s birthdays, although they are still a part of Christmas festivities in Mexico. Even the supervised use of sticks is considered unsafe by many parents, so some commercial pinatas are now designed to be opened through a system of hanging strings. As themed children’s birthday parties have become more popular, so have themed pinatas which are now available in every shape imaginable including animals, stars, hearts, cars and licensed characters. Looking for a pinata to add fun to a birthday party? Check out the pinatas and other party supplies on this website.