Anyone sending mail from the US to Mexico really needs to post them with the new “Piñatas!” forever stamps.
The US Postal Service released them in September for Hispanic Heritage Month, and they’re adorable.
They come in four designs — two donkeys and two seven-pointed stars — celebrating the traditional Mexican fiesta favorite. Víctor Meléndez created the original art and designed the stamps. Meléndez, a native of Mexico City, is a graphic artist based in Seattle. His work includes the redesign of the famous mermaid of the Starbucks coffee chain. Antonio Alcalá was his art director on the USPS assignment.
The stamp art features four digital illustrations of two traditional piñata designs — a donkey and a seven-pointed star. The bright, saturated color palette was inspired by Mexican culture, including the vibrant colors of small-town houses, traditional hand-sewn dresses, handmade toys and flowers, and classic piñatas themselves. The donkey illustrations are set against either a pink or orange background; the stars feature either a purple or green background. The background colors add to the exuberant and celebratory feel of the stamps.
The Piñatas! stamps are being issued in booklets of 20. These Forever stamps will always be equal in value to the current First-Class Mail 1-ounce price. You’ll need at least three of them to send a standard card or letter overseas, and we’d recommend dropping it off at the window of a local post office to be sure it’s good to go.
This is the third consecutive year the Postal Service has issued stamps with a Mexican theme. In 2021, USPS issued Day of the Dead stamps, and in 2022, the stamps had a colorful mariachi motif.
“Ours is truly a world culture, and our stamps allow us to weave together the many threads of our national tapestry, and piñatas are the perfect example of this,” said Isaac Cronkhite, chief processing and distribution officer and executive vice president, U.S. Postal Service, who served as the stamps’ dedicating official.
Scholars believe piñatas might have their origins in China, where medieval European explorers found decorated animal figurines that were beaten with a stick until they broke open, releasing the seeds contained in the hollow interior. After the remains of the vessel were burned, the ashes were gathered for good luck in the coming year.
By the 14th century in Italy, a similar practice — possibly imported from Marco Polo — became part of festivities during Lent. Rather than the brightly adorned figure that featured in the Chinese ceremonies, the Italians used an undecorated clay vessel called the pignatta (“fragile pot”), which was filled with sweets. As the custom migrated to Spain, breaking the pignatta evolved into a form of celebration on the first Sunday in Lent. The piñata came to the New World with Christian missionaries in the 16th century.
At the time of the Spanish arrival in what is now Mexico, the Aztecs, for example, had something similar: they decorated clay pots with feathers and filled them with small gifts. After hanging clay pots in front of statues of their gods, they struck the pots with sticks until the vessels broke and the treasures inside fell to the ground as offerings.
Spanish missionaries combined these ceremonies with their own Lenten tradition to attract Christian converts. Used as religious instruction, the piñata represented the devil and temptation. The blindfolded player symbolized blind faith armed with the stick of goodness; breaking open the piñata showed the triumph of good over evil.
Today, the piñata is still an important part of many celebrations in Mexico and the United States, and the custom has spread to other countries. They are a traditional part of the posadas, a nine-day festival held in early December that commemorates Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus.
Historically, the piñata-maker — called the piñatero or piñatera — began with a clay pot as the base, which was covered with shredded paper and engrudo (a paste made from water and flour or cornstarch).
The design emerged as the maker attached cones and other forms to the prepared pot. Gluing strips of curled and cut tissue paper over the entire structure, the artist turned the clay vessel into a swan, a bull, or a seven-point star — almost anything imaginable. Today, a traditionally crafted piñata might begin with a frame made of reeds tied with string; a homemade piñata sometimes uses a balloon as the base. Whether mass-produced, handcrafted by artisans or made at home, piñatas are easily found to fit any occasion or taste.
The customs surrounding piñatas today are very similar to those from centuries ago. Filled with treats and presents, the piñata hangs by ropes that can be manipulated to move up, down or sideways. A blindfolded player tries to strike the piñata with a stick while the rope is pulled to make a direct hit more difficult. Each player takes a turn until one breaks the piñata, scattering its contents on the ground to be gathered up by all the participants. Though the meaning of breaking the piñata has evolved, the result is still the same: bounty for all.
With information from USPS