Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Break that piñata!

Believe it or not, the piñata is not a mere party game. Originally, it symbolized the eternal battle between Good and Evil . It was an instrument of evangelization, introduced to the New World via Mexico (Nueva España) , probably as early as the XVIth century.

Today the piñata is completely secularized and no one remembers its catechetical function. At piñata shops scattered all over Mexico (and probably the rest of Latin America and other parts of the world where Latinos live), one can buy all types of piñatas-- Santa Claus, Super Man, Spider Man, Nemo, furry animal, galleons with pretty sails, Winnie the Pooh, Harry Potter and other box office heroes. Gigantic, medium and small, these modern day piñatas have nothing to do with the Roman Catholic religion. For all we know, children end up traumatized by having to whack and destroy the effigy of their favorite pet animal or cartoon character.

A historically correct piñata consists of a terra cotta pot (palayok) disguised as a brilliant star wrapped in shiny colored paper, embellished with seven horns, each covered with paper of different hues, and each with a coquettish tassel dangling from the tip. The piñata is the Devil and the horns, the seven capital sins, that is why the piñata has to be as alluring as temptation itself and as irresistible as an occasion of sin. The Devil, temptation and sin have to be vanquished— breaking the piñata-- before we mortals can receive God´s blessings—symbolized by the spilling of its delicious contents..

Because it was a religious lesson, the piñata was broken at Christmas time, during a Pastorella, or during the Lenten season. Before taking a hack at it, one is blindfolded to profess “ blind Faith” (believing without seeing) ” with which one conquers temptation and resists committing sin. The stout stick used to hit the piñata symbolizes fortitude and other God-given virtues; it can also symbolize Jesus Christ himself, our Savior. The song that livens up the ritual is more like a religious canticle that enjoins us not to stray from the rightful path:

“Dale, dale, dale, no pierdas el tino ,( Hit it and don´t lose your aim) porque si lo pierdes, pierdes el camino ( because if you do, you will lose the way) . Dale, dale, dale, no pierdas el tino, mide la distancia que hay en el camino ( measure the distance of the way/road) . Dale, dale, dale, no pierdas el tino, porque si lo pierdes, pierdes el camino..”.

Once broken the piñata disgorges a shower of cacahuates,( like our boiled mani) miniature naranjas (oranges) and jicamas (sinkamas) , cañas (chopped tubo), dulces (native sweets), , tejocotes ( small orange fruits ) which symbolize God´s blessings for those whose sins are forgiven. Why these fruits in particular? Each one probably symbolizes a Christian virtue.

As you know, the early missionaries adapted popular local traditions to facilitate evangelization. The loa and dalit of ancient Batangas eventually became religious songs. By coincidence, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared on the very place where Aztecs venerated Tonantzin. Intriguing, isn´t it? There must be more to our fiestas and festivals than just street dancing.