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The Origins and Use of a Pinata

Pinata is a Spanish word, pronounced Pin-yah-ta, meaning to join, or to bind in a bundle. A pinata is a hand-made papier-mâché and cardboard model decorated with brightly coloured tissue paper, designed to be filled with sweets, small toys and treats. Designed to be broken, pinatas are nevertheless created with enormous care and come every imaginable shape and size, from the traditional star shapes to donkeys, aeroplanes or even your favourite character, Spiderman or Dora the Explorer.  You’ll find a pinata for every taste and party theme.
The best place to get a pinata is from a party supplies shop but you’ll find the greatest range of pinatas online.   Party supplies websites will also supply all the party favours, sweets and treats you’ll need to fill the pinata.
If you are very creative – or require a pinata design that hasn’t yet been thought of, you can make a pinata.  It is not difficult.
For your pinata you will need:
  • light-weight, easily breakable materials (balloons, kitchen roll tubes, poster board, etc) to build the frame,
  • newspaper
  • white paper
  • papier mache paste or wallpaper paste,
  • string or coloured ribbon
  • a  paper clip and
  • coloured tissue paper or paints.
Build you frame first in whatever shape you have chosen.  After looping the string through the paperclip, tape the paperclip to the pinata frame so that it is balanced when you hang it up. Cover the frame (including the paper clip but not the string loop) with three to four layers of papier-mâché, using newspaper for the under layers but white paper for the top layer so that none of the newsprint shows through.   Remember to leave a hole at the top so you can fill with the sweets and favours.  Then leave to dry for about 24 hours, after which you can decorate the pinata with paints or tissue paper (or both).

History of Pinatas
They say that the pinata started life simply as a painted clay pot decorated with colourful paper and filled with sweets and money which later became the colourful and beautifully decorated papier-mâché pinatas seen today. Breaking the pinata has been a tradition at parties in Hispanic communities for centuries but has only recently arrived here in Britain.
In some places the pinata is given a religious significance. The pinata represents the devil, tempting mankind with the promise of untold pleasure (the treats hidden inside). The blindfolded child hitting the pinata represents the strength of the Christian faith which must destroy the evil spirit.
Using a Pinata
The pinata has for some become the highlight of the children’s party often replacing our own traditions like Pass the Parcel or Pin the Tail on the Donkey.  
The pinata can be filled with nearly anything, though small, fairly light, non-breakable items such as sweets and small toys are best.  For effect you can add confetti too.  Make sure that there is enough in the pinata for everyone at the party to get at least 2 or 3 goodies.    
To suspend the pinata use strong rope or cord to attach to the reinforced loop on the pinata.  Unless you have a lot of space indoors it is best to play the pinata game outside (or possibly in the garage).  If you have a netball hoop, that would be perfect.  Otherwise the branch of a tree or from the washing line.    
Playing the Game
It is really up to you how you wish to play the game and this will depend on the age (and temperament of the party guests!).  And always with adult supervision of course.
Here is a basic version of the game.
  • Keeping the players out of the line of fire, bring them forward one at a time, youngest first.  The under threes are traditionally not blindfolded.    
  • Give the chosen child the pinata stick (decorated sticks may be bought along with the pinata, but a broom handle would do just as well.
  • Spin the child round and encourage the onlookers to shout directions and encouragement.
  • Let each person hit the pinata at least a couple of times before you move on to the next one.
  • For safety reasons, ensure that there is a 15-foot safe zone and that the party guest hitting the pinata has completely stopped before anyone to goes to grab the goodies on the floor.
  • To make the game more fun, the pinata can be swung up and down, and other guests encouraged to give wrong directions.
  • Make sure that everyone gets some sweets and favours at the end of the game.

Other Uses for a Pinata
Pinatas are not only popular as fun children’s party games
  • Colourful room decorations   
  • Party table centrepieces.  
  • Corporate giveaways - tied in with a theme   
  • Can be birthday presents – fill the recipient's favourite shape with small presents.