A Piñata Story

Posted by:  |  Category: Ana's Blog, Traditions + Culture

Photo by peasap

Photo by peasap

I grew up in El Salvador going to Piñatas, not fiestas de cumpleaños, but Piñatas. If you guessed that the smacking of the hanging toy was the main attraction, you’re right. The thing is I don’t remember ever having fun when it was my turn to grab the stick and hit the swinging piñata. I never felt tall enough, strong enough, or maybe I simply was never interested enough.

I was reminded about this feeling of childhood inadequacy last week when I took my toddler to a friend’s second birthday. The fun party had a Venezuelan and a Dora theme. We ate sandwichon for the first time ever and loved it, tried to sing the Venezuelan birthday song (thanks to Marianna for posting the lyrics!), jumped in the Dora bouncer and ran to get in the circle when  it came time to hit the piñata. Camila was loving the giant, crepe-paper Dora.

But then, her nightmare began. She had no idea Dora would get beaten up with a stick by her friends! I had  no idea my daughter was so sensitive. Holding on to my leg, she remained semi-brave watching the scene in front of her, but then, something happened and Dora snapped from the string and fell with a thud to the floor. Oh no! That was it! Camila lost it right there. I had to get her as far as possible from the “crime scene.” She didn’t want to get close to it at all. She wasn’t even interested in the candy I was insisting she have. For some insane reason I wanted to see her madly dashing for candy on all fours, and having fun at it. But my daughter just isn’t into piñatas.

I know, she’s only two. She’ll probably outgrow it, or maybe not. Maybe I was just as sensitive and never outgrew it and that’s why I never enjoyed it. However, I still enjoy the idea of it and the tradition it represents.

I’m sure if it hadn’t been one of her favorite cartoon characters, she wouldn’t have freaked out. I mean, think about it-she dances and sings and talks to Dora on occasions and now she has to see her get shred to pieces. How much are children able to disconnect and disassociate? Many kids were upset, many were not. Does it have to do with their level of connection with the character or are they just able to see it as play, whereas Camila identified it with violence?

Photo by gusdrinks

Photo by gusdrinks

I don’t mean to be a piñata-pooper. I love the tradition of a piñata and want to have one every year for every occasion. But why do we have to use the image of our children’s favorite amigos as a piñata? What happened to the original seven-pointed star symbolic of the seven sins? At least there’s a point to smashing those to pieces! Or how about a number, a donkey, or even a Star Wars Death Star (for real??)?

The host of the party was concerned that her daughter would also have a melt down at the time of the Dora destruction. She thinks that since her girl went through the whole process of buying the piñata, filling it with candy, lugging her to the park, etc she already understood what was going to happen and was able to enjoy it.

This makes me think there’s still hope for us and many piñata-filled years to come. Camila’s second birthday is coming up next month and I want to start incorporating this tradition. We’ll take baby steps. We’ll start with a more age-appropriate pull-string piñata. Ok, maybe it’s not as fun or loud or destructive but I’ll bet anything pre-schoolers will get a kick out of it. I found this blog, Thingamababy, with great instructions on how to make your own pull-string piñata.

Maybe next year we’ll take it a step further by making our own piñata in some crazy shape.  I’m not a crafty chica, but this could become a good tradition within a tradition. Here’s a good video for that:

Piñataboy is also a good resource for piñata-making instructions and inspirations for different shapes to experiment with.

If you want to know more about the actual tradition of the piñata and where it comes from (would you believe it’s been traced back to China?!) then this is a great read. It will give more meaning to our yearly smash-fest.

But, no matter how much Camila grows to love piñatas and I let go of my childhood fears, I shall never, ever get her a talking piñata that “speaks” every time it gets smacked. Huh?

Have any tips on how to ease a toddler into a piñata-fest?  Any funny stories to share?  Sure you do!

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