December, a very symbolic month for those of us who are Catholics but specially in Mexico because besides celebrating the birth of our lord Jesus Christ on December 25th, we also celebrate the apparition of our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th.
I remember the month of December being always highly anticipated by all the kids (including me), because it was a time of celebration and joy. The atmosphere in the city changed and everything had to do with Christmas. The shops started decorating their showcases, the music all around was festive and of course, you could see on TV all the toys being wildly advertised at all times.
We used to go to the market of Coyoacán with my mom to buy hay and moss to decorate the manger of our Nativity set, and I can tell you, that market was completely transformed.
There were Christmas decorations all over. The figurines for the Nativity sets came in all sizes and styles. We usually ended buying a couple of new additions to our own set, and they were usually cute plaster figures of little animals like chickens or sheep, because we already had the main characters.
So, everything at that time of the year was quite exciting: we had the long Christmas break from school; we decorated our house with the Christmas tree, ornaments and the Nativity set; there were traditional carols playing everywhere and we used to eat different things like traditional sweets or the sugar cane, the small jicamas and mandarines that were used to fill the piñatas for the "posadas" and you could only get those chiefly during that time of the year.
Finally we are getting closer to our main topic which is the "piñatas".
The "posadas" are gatherings where family and friends celebrate with games, chantings and different activities, the procession of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of a safe refuge where Mary could give birth to the baby Jesus. I'm not gonna go deeper into describing the posadas, because that deserves its own blog, but what I can certainly say is that one of the main elements of a posada is the piñata, which plays a very important role during this celebration. There is no posada without a piñata, as simple as that.
But, where do the piñatas actually come from? Well, I have to say it is not from Mexico. The piñatas are originally from China, where hundreds of years ago were made to celebrate the Chinese new year. Figures of cows or oxen covered with colored paper were stuffed with some sort of seeds that were broken with a hard stick to release the content, once that happened they were set on fire, for people to gather the ashes to bring good luck to their household throughout the year.
In one of his trips to China, Marco Polo witnessed that tradition and brought back to Italy one of those stuffed items that Italians named "pignatta", which means "fragile pot". Once the pignattas passed into Europe and spread to Spain is when these colorful pots arrived to the New World. However, you must know that the Aztecs and the Mayans already had something similar, either to honor their gods or as a kind of game.
The missionaries to North America used the piñatas for their own purposes by decorating the natives clay pots with the colorful paper of their pignattas, and giving them their religious symbolism.
Originally, the piñatas used to have seven points representing the seven deadly sins: envy, sloth, gluttony, greed, lust, anger/wrath, and pride. The stick which is used to break the piñata symbolizes love, which is supposed to destroy the sins by hitting and breaking the piñata into pieces. The candies and treats that come pouring out from the broken piñata, symbolize the forgiveness of sins and a new beginning. Also, it is a tradition to fold blind the person hitting the piñata, to symbolize the "blind faith" that destroys evil.
So, during the posadas we used to break a piñata full of candies, fruit and some small toys. Many years ago the piñatas were made of clay but then that changed because the moment pieces of clay started falling, was kind of dangerous for the kids. People started making paper mache piñatas which ironically made them even more difficult to break than the ones made of clay, but safer.
Nowadays the piñatas are very popular at posadas and birthday parties and you can find endless designs, not only the seven points ones.
I leave you with an example of the piñatas you can find in Mexico to make your celebration even more special.
Feliz Navidad y próspero año nuevo.