Origin of the piñata

The posadas have already started, and one of the elements that cannot be missing is the piñata, whether in its traditional shape as a star or a fashionable character. It is one of the funniest traditions of the holiday season. Do you know what the origin of the piñata is? Here we tell you.

The Catholic tradition indicates that from December 16th to December 24th, posadas take place, remembering the days when Mary and Joseph asked for posada (shelter) before the birth of Jesus Christ.

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From China to Europe

There are different versions about how piñatas arose; one of them has to do with China, where a clay cow, ox, or buffalo was covered with colored paper, and agricultural tools were hung.

On one of his trips, the explorer Marco Polo observed that to celebrate the Chinese New Year, the inhabitants of that region broke an ox figurine, which was filled with seeds. This anecdote is described in his book The Travels of Marco Polo.

The merchant, too, took this game to Italy, where it took the name of “pignatta”, “fragile pot” in Italian because it was made with a clay pot. However, some say that the origin of this word does not come from being made with a pot, but because the first “piñatas” were always made in the shape of a “pineapple”, lined with colored tissue paper, and that is precisely from why the word “pignatta” means “fragile pot”.

As this custom spread throughout Europe, they were integrated into the celebration of Lent. In Spain, the piñata was broken on the first Sunday of Lent, so this Sunday was known as “Piñata Sunday” for many years.

The tradition or game consisted simply of breaking a clay pot covered with colored paper with a stick filled with candy, and people were blindfolded to break it.

Piñata in a posada Photo: Shutterstock

Pre-Hispanic piñatas

Another version dates back to the Mayans, who had a game where they hung a clay pot full of cocoa beans, which they had to break blindfolded. But a similar tradition is also associated with the Aztec civilization, which celebrated the god Huitzilopochtli. This celebration coincided with the European winter.

In the ceremony, the priests of the Templo Mayor placed a clay pot on a pole in the temple and filled it with small precious objects obtained as loot from their victories. The pot was richly decorated with multicolored feathers, it was broken with a stick, and the gifts it contained were spilled at the feet of its god, signifying the offering of the people.


During the Spanish conquest, the Catholic priests used the piñatas to preach the gospel. The idea was quickly accepted due to the background of the Aztec culture.

It is estimated that the first “official” posada in New Spain was held in 1586. The Augustinian friars of Acolman de Nezahualcóyotl, in the current State of Mexico, near the archaeological site of Teotihuacán, received authorization from Pope Sixto V to celebrate the “aguinaldo masses”, which would later become the posadas. It was at these masses that the friars introduced the piñata.


According to catholic tradition, the elements of the piñata have the following meaning:

  • Star shape: Its seven peaks represent each of the seven sins
  • Blindfolded: It is the blind faith with which temptations are overcome
  • Stick: Remember the fight against sins
  • Fruit and candy: It means the riches of the kingdom of heaven

How can you make a piñata?

You can use a clay pot or a balloon and newspaper clippings, glue, tissue paper, and cardboard cones. Once you have these materials, take the pot or the balloon, and place the glue all over the surface to stick the newspaper clippings.

Once you’ve glued the cutouts and the balloon or pot is completely covered, glue the cardboard cones, forming the spikes of the piñata; you can even tape them. Let dry for a few minutes.

Once you have assembled the piñata, decorate it with tissue paper, you can put other ornaments such as stickers or colored ribbons.

Tell your little one the origin of the piñata and together make yours.

Artisans making a piñata Photo: Shutterstock

Translated by: Ligia M. Oliver Manrique de Lara

Spanish version