Piñatas and candy - Surprising traditions and a little game. Play along!

There are so many shops here that sell candy and piñatas. My kids loooooove these shops and so did my friend's kid, when Margaret visited us. You should have seen his face when he entered the dulcería! His eyes would have come out of their orbit just like in cartoons if that were possible! So wonderful to see how incredulous it seemed to him! I brought a piñata back to my friend Olga's daughter a few years back. She was a fan of Frozen, and particularly of Olaf. So Olaf traveled all the way back home from Mérida, Mexico and then FedExed him to New Jersey!

Before we play a little game, here is a history of the piñata.

Though the Spanish origin of pinatas is largely undisputed among historians, there is evidence that points to China as the potential original root (cincy-mayo.com). It is then believed the piñata might have made a stop in Italy on the way (thanks Marco Polo) from China to Spain. The piñata often was a clay pot then adorned as a farm animal that would be whacked on New Year's Eve, broken, consequently spilling seeds; the remains would be burned and symbolize the death of a year and arrival of a new one. The tradition made its way to the New World (through the missionaries who used it to attract converts). This was facilitated by the fact that indigenous peoples already had a similar tradition. To celebrate the birthday of the Aztec god of war, Huitzilopochtli, priests placed a clay pot on a pole in the temple at year’s end. Colorful feathers adorned the richly decorated pot, which was filled with tiny treasures. When it was broken with a stick or club, the treasures fell to the feet of the god’s image as an offering. The Mayans, great lovers of sport, also played a game where the player’s eyes were covered while hitting a clay pot suspended by string. Isn't that incredible?

The Church ingeniously used the piñata to include theological symbolism:

- The original and traditional piñata has seven points symbolizing the seven deadly sins: envy, sloth, gluttony, greed, lust, anger/wrath, and pride.

- The ten-pointed piñata symbolizes the sins that come from breaking the Ten Commandments.

- The stick came to symbolize love and love destroys sin.

- The blindfold represents Faith.

- The content of the piñata symbolizes the forgiveness of sins consequently, new beginnings. The treats are the rewards one reaps through faith.

- Turning the person (in some local traditions 33 times, just like the years of Christ's earthly life), singing and shouting stands for the chaos and disorientation that temptation creates.

Well-played Domincan friars, well-played…

Nowadays, the religious symbolism of the piñata is somewhat lost, but the tradition remains, especially in Mexico, and particularly at Christmas, when piñatas are filled with fruit and candies such as guavas, oranges, jicamas, pieces of sugar cane, tejocotes and wrapped candies. Some piñatas are "traps" filled with flour, confetti or water. So beware!

Back to candy and treats… Look at the picture of a candy cart outside the market in Mérida. Can you find the one that intruded on this colorful display! And if you cannot find the intruder, I will give the answer tomorrow.

Armelle Fee

Travel Expert

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