Although some point to the Chinese as the inventors of the piñata, there is no doubt that the Spanish conquerors brought with them a tradition that is always present at birthdays and the Christmas parties known as “posadas.”
“Piñatas make up part of our Hispanic culture and tradition; that’s how we celebrate,” said Julia Herrera on July 15 as she was making a piñata.
“Making them is an art that is passed down from generation to generation and over time it adapts to the changes.” As examples she gives the creation of a traditional seven-point star for a Christmas posada, or one of a cartoon-like character for a birthday.”
Herrera and her husband, Israel, run a workshop with family members north of Tulsa where they make 200 piñatas a week, which are distributed to Hispanic stores.
She said she learned the trade in her native state of Oaxaca in Mexico and has been making piñatas for 11 years.
“It's an art. Turning paper and cardboard into a star or an animated character is a very beautiful art,” said the artisan. “Of course, now there are tools that make the job much easier.” Some are made with a portion of clear plastic so one can see inside the piñata.
The time it takes to make a piñata depends on the type. “But it usually takes an hour,” said Herrera. “Once you start, you get fully into creating it, and suddenly you realize that you’re done.”
Herrera says December and summer are the times when piñatas are most in demand. “The rest of the year is a little slower.”
Her workshop becomes filled with hundreds of elves, fairies, soldiers and stars – and then every weekend it is empty, but with the knowledge that every Monday work will start again. “It’s a great experience to see all these piñatas that only a few days ago were paper and cardboard and now they can bring happiness to other people,” Herrera said. “That’s why I like what I do.”
Be it December, one’s “santo” (the Catholic saint’s day that corresponds to one’s name), or one’s birthday, do not forget to join in the ditty that is sung as people swing at the piñata, such as the one that encourages them to carefully assess the distance to the target and “hit it, hit it, hit it.”
Notes of interest
The traditional piñata with seven points has been linked to Catholic beliefs, suggesting that this type represents the seven deadly sins, and breaking it symbolizes the destruction of evil and the triumph of good.
During the Spanish colonial period, piñatas were made of clay, shaped like a pot and covered with colored paper, and they were usually filled with fruit.
The Museum of Folk Art of Mexico, located in the historic center of Mexico City, offers regular workshops about making piñatas.
The web site comohacerpinatas.com offers a virtual teacher who explains step by step how to make a piñata.
Photos by Juan Miret