Piñatas endure as a Christmastime tradition

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Mérida piñatas
José Castro Alvarez poses with some of the piñatas made with his family in Col. Pensiones. Photo: Diario de Yucatán

Mérida, Yucatán — The holidays have come, and with them are the traditional piñatas, whose origins are both Chinese and Mayan.

Piñatas — shaped like stars, Santa Claus, boots, reindeer, bells and snowmen — are already on display in streets, supermarkets, bazaars, shopping malls and in private homes.

While piñatas are thought of as lighthearted fun, the toy is rooted in the very sober history of Christian evangelism. With the piñata playing the role of Satan.

Although its origin is Chinese, during the Spanish conquest, piñatas were first brought to Mexico to represent the struggle of good against evil. 

The Mayans already had a similar game among their traditions. The indigenous people played a game where the player’s eyes were covered while hitting a clay pot suspended by string.  

Initially, piñatas in Mexico were a brightly colored clay pots with seven points, symbolizing the seven deadly sins. 

The child whose turn it is to be blindfolded and brandishing a stick represents blind faith — ready to overcome the devil. To disorient the player, he would often be spun around 33 times, number that symbolizes Jesus’ life.

When broken, the piñata’s contents spilled out, representing the beatitudes that are earned when evil — the Devil – is conquered.

A family business

Today, the Castro Alvarez family has been dedicated to making piñatas for 26 years at their shop, Unicornio, in Col. Pensiones. And these days, they are made with newspaper and tissue paper, and often formed to represent contemporary cartoon characters.

In Yucatán, the star shapes of all sizes are the favorite, followed by Santa and reindeer motifs.

José Castro Alvarez says that despite increasing competition, the shop sells about 70 piñatas a month. For Christmas, their best season, they expect 400 piñatas to be sold. Prices range from 75 to 1,000 pesos.

Source: Diario de Yucatán

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