Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Cinco de Mayo and Pinatas

Being somewhat of a contrarian, and trying to avoid a crowd, I lilke to go to Bar Tabac, a French bistro, to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.  And, the Mysterious Chinese Woman wanted me to know that the pinatas, of which you may see a lot today, probably had their origin in, this will be hard to guess, China.

At least as far back as the 13th century, the Chinese had a game whereby large paper dolls in animal shapes were stuffed with seeds and then smashed to bits by partygoers.  The paper remnants were then burned and the ashes kept for good luck.

Explorer Marco Polo saw this game during his travels to China and brought the idea back to Italy, where the object was called a pignatta - or "little pot" - and became popular with the Renaissance nobility. Instead of paper and seeds, small clay vessels were filled with trinkets and other pricier gifts, then batted at during pre-Lenten celebrations. Larger, colorful pignattas filled with candies were hung in town squares and smashed open for children during the carnival festivities.

The route from Italy to Spain brought small changes to the custom, which then made its way across the Atlantic to Mexico with Spanish missionaries.
In Mexico, the Spanish pinatas were used as a tool of religious conversion, as the hanging pot was meant to represent sin, and those who destroyed it represented good vanquishing evil. Pinatas were readily accepted in Mexico because a similar Aztec ceremony honoring Huitzilopotchli, the god of war, already existed there.

So there you have it.  Of course according to the Mysterious Chinese Woman, everything had its origin in China.

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