You are currently viewing The Dance of the Pinata
  • Post published:March 1, 2023

The Chinese lay claim to the origin of a centuries-old whacking of the image of a cow filled with different types of seeds at the beginning of every New Year hoping for a favorable climate for their agriculture. The Aztecs say they invented the practice to honor the birthday of a god with a multi-syllabic name who needed appeasement—perhaps for every battered piñata there was one less human sacrifice.

Once the Spanish monks moved into the Mesoamerica neighborhood, they immediately saw the opportunity to co-opt the ritual and created their own 14th century version called “The Dance of the Piñata.” A seven-point piñata represented the seven deadly sins. The piñata itself represented evil, and the treats inside, the temptations of evil. The individual armed with a club was blindfolded to represent “blind faith.”

When the participant struck at the piñata, it was the struggle against evil, and when a blow landed and the piñata broke open, the treats inside showered down upon the victor as a reward for keeping the faith. So these treats somehow magically turned from nuggets of temptation to a shower of blessing. Those tricky monks. The things we do to placate the gods and ward off evil and be entertained at the same time.

In celebration of a grand child’s birthday, we gathered for the party. There were a passel of neighborhood kids, the median age hovering in the single digits, and we all circled beneath the unicorn piñata suspended from a tree limb. The honor of the first swing went to the birthday child, but alas, it was a swing-and-a-miss, so the bat was passed on to the next guest, and then on down the line.

The cheering continued throughout the game as some swipes landed, but never a deathblow. Finally the birthday child came to bat again and beat the piñata until it gave up the ghost and yielded its candied entrails. The belly of the unicorn burst open and the treats exploded into the air. It became a bacchanal for juveniles.

It was such an odd feeling to witness and yes, participate in this human activity of destroying something in hopes of gaining something. I’m not a killjoy, I know how to have a good time, but such wild and frenzied actions of the young brought with it a loss of innocence. I may be thinking too deeply. Maybe I’m just getting old. Whatever this feeling was/is, I found it unsettling…and still do.