Something caught my eye the other day and I followed an impulse. After getting my vehicle repaired off Airport Road, I passed a small store front with two piñatas hanging outside.
Batman and a star piñata lured me into a U-turn. It was like I walked into a folk art market or a room at Mexico City’s renowned Museo de Arte Popular (folk art).
Anahi’s Jumpers is crammed with colorful piñatas of all sizes and designs. “Any shape you can imagine,” says co-owner Andrea Suarez, who runs the store with husband Norberto de la Cruz and other family members.
From the ceiling hangs a massive jumble of arms and legs of cartoon characters, superheroes, animals – including a shark – a football and even a likeness of Frida Kahlo, representing 250 piñatas. She sells five or six a day.
When we visited, Miguel Vasquez of Santa Fe was buying a traditional piñata and two colorful palos (the sticks for breaking it) for his daughter Ezly and son Manuel, for her birthday party.
Many know piñatas as the papier mâché, candy-filled vessels that blindfolded children whack until they break and deliver their sweet treats.
Although they have lost some meaning in favor of the party aspects, the traditional piñata, like the one Miguel Vasquez purchased, is Sputnik-like, with seven points with streamers and has meaning.
“It’s a really old tradition from Mexico,” said Suarez. “It’s (the seven-point piñata) supposed to be the seven deadly sins (pecados).”
Eliseo “Cheo” Torres, University of New Mexico’s Vice-president of Student Affairs, grew up with piñatas for Christmas and birthday celebrations, and is an expert on Mexican traditions.
Originally, birthday piñatas were not as significant as Christmas ones – part of Posada celebrations, Torres said in an email.
“The posada short pilgrimage ended with breaking the piñata, followed by a meal of tamales,” Torres wrote. “Most all of the December piñatas were the pointed kind, with each point representing a mortal sin as told by our mother.”
The piñata, according to the Mexconnect website, represents virtues of religious instruction or catechism, as well as hope and charity.
Participants look to the heavens in hope the piñata will deliver its bounty and, when broken, “everyone shared in the divine blessings and gifts” of its candies and fruits.
Anchored in history, hope and luck
They are steeped in history and hope. They may have originated in China, according to Mexconnect.
Marco Polo probably saw the Chinese making animal figures adorned with colored paper and, when broken with sticks, seeds flowed out. They burned the rest and saved the ashes for good luck. The custom moved to Europe in the 14th century.
“My mother would tell us that the tradition may have come from Spain or Italy as told by our grandmother,” said Torres.
These days, piñatas are a colorful addition to occasions including birthdays, first communions, Father’s Day and Christmas, said Suarez.
“They are mostly for the kids, but also for every age,” said Suarez. “Everybody likes breaking a piñata.”
The piñatas come empty, but Suarez stocks plenty of sweet goodies to stuff them with.
For Torres, piñatas recall sweet childhood memories.
“Whenever we visited our Mexican relatives, we would usually bring back fancy piñatas from the piñata store and my mother would store them for the next kid’s birthday. These ones were large and fancy, and could be in the form of an animal, such as a bull, horse, cat or dog, or a character,” he said. “To this date, we buy and break a piñata for our grandkids’ birthdays.
“If we could not afford to purchase one, my mother and sisters would make a simple piñata beginning with a blown balloon and covered with newspaper soaked in a paste of flour and water, and painted with water colors,” said Torres.
After the 2016 presidential election, piñatas depicting President Trump became especially popular, due largely to disparaging comments he made about Mexicans.
“Yes, we had that piñata before,” said Suarez.
Politics aside, my friend picked out a large multi-colored burro (burrito) piñata, which Suarez skillfully retrieved from the ceiling with a long pole.
“It’s good luck breaking a piñata,” said Suarez.
And who couldn’t use a little hope and good luck these days?