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What is a PiÑAta?

By J. Beam
Updated Feb 25, 2024
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A piñata is a container that is usually brightly colored and decorated, made of cardboard or similar material that holds candy, trinkets, and toys. It is usually suspended from a rope and is broken open by blindfolded children wielding batons or sticks during a celebration or party. The piñata is a celebratory custom that has a strong association with Mexico, but has been found in use at celebrations world wide for hundreds of years. In the United States, breaking one open is a frequent game at children’s birthday parties.

The traditional piñata was always a container broken open with a stick, but due to the potential dangers and injuries resulting from blindfolded children swinging ball bats, a safer version has emerged. Many commercially available ones now feature an array of pull strings dangling from the bottom, only one of which will actually release the contents from the bottom through flap-like trap door. Children take turns pulling a single string until the one that opens the flap is pulled. Though this modified design is quite popular amongst parents, the original style still exists.

Due to the piñata’s popularity at celebrations and parties, many people feel that it is important to have one that coordinates with a party theme. Though it is traditionally an animal, the container can be of any shape. Many licensed characters are available in this form and availability varies with current popularity and trends. In addition to buying commercially manufactured piñatas, they can also be made from cardboard boxes, paper-mache, or even clay.

The contents of a piñata were traditionally fruits and sugarcane, though modern fillers have expanded to include all varieties of candy, gum, and other sweets, along with trinkets and toys like bouncy balls, spinning tops, plastic jewelry, and any other variety of small objects that children favor. Most children have no preference for the type of filling, but rather enjoy the momentary anticipation of trying to release whatever is hidden inside.

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Discussion Comments

By anon213522 — On Sep 11, 2011

"...blindfolded children swinging ball bats..."

Never mind. This is even better!

By anon213520 — On Sep 11, 2011

"...blindfolded children wielding batons or sticks..."

Now, that's a scary thought! This made me laugh!

By popcorn — On Jul 21, 2011

@anon40805 - I have never really thought of a piñata as being for one gender or another, but if you are looking for something that is tailored to fit one child you can always have a piñata made.

A piñata is available in lots of different characters and animals, and you will probably be able to see a good selection if you visit a party shop. If the boy you are thinking of likes bears or cowboys, the chances of them having a piñata that fits your party theme is pretty high.

If all else fails you can make a piñata yourself, as they are pretty easy to make.

By Sara007 — On Jul 20, 2011

A piñata is a great way to hand out treats at a birthday party, but as they can be a bit expensive you can always make one yourself if you are feeling crafty.

All you need to do is get a big balloon and paper mache it. Unlike with normal paper mache projects you really want to make sure that you keep your layers thin so it isn't too strong.

After the paper mache has dried you can cut a small hole at the top and stick a pin through the opening to pop the balloon.

After that is done you can add something to hang the paper mache ball from and decorate the outside with tissue paper in various patterns.

When you have the piñata looking the way you like you just need to fill it with treats and hang it up.

By shell4life — On Jul 20, 2011

@cloudel - Pull string piñatas are always a good idea. I got a black eye at one kid’s party from the traditional bat whack. Also, I didn’t get any candy, because they rushed me to the doctor when I fell over on my back.

Don’t get me wrong - I think piñatas are a fascinating birthday party must. I just think that the need for hitting them should be eliminated. In addition to preventing injury, pull string piñatas do not promote violence or aggression.

When filled with things kids will actually enjoy playing with or eating instead of disappointing healthy treats, pull string piñatas can be just as fun as the old kind. I will always use them at any parties I have a hand in planning.

By cloudel — On Jul 20, 2011

My little cousin loved unicorns. When I got called to help design her piñata, I suggested we make it a hot pink unicorn covered in glitter. That way, all the children would get the added bonus of being sprinkled with glitter while gathering treats.

I also suggested we make it a pull string piñata. I distinctly remember her crying at her brother’s party when kids started beating the dog-shaped piñata with a bat.

We filled the treasure trove with My Little Pony toys, scented markers and lip gloss, and Hershey’s Kisses. The toys got snapped up quicker than the candy!

By Perdido — On Jul 19, 2011

When I was eleven, I helped my mother make my sister’s piñata for her party. We carved the shape from styrofoam and coated it with clay. We filled it with Blowpops, round peach candies, those strawberry-goo filled candies that come in strawberry-themed wrappers, Skittles, and boxes of lemon drops. Fruit indeed was the theme.

In fact, the piñata itself was a giant banana. It was pretty cool to see all that fruity candy pouring out of a giant piece of fruit.

The chocoholics at the party did not go away disappointed, however. The cake was entirely chocolate, from the frosting to the mix to the caramel-filled chocolate pieces scattered on top. I think fruit candy and chocolate cake go together quite well, as did all the other guests.

By StarJo — On Jul 18, 2011

The women in my family were always really great with arts and crafts, and they made the best piñatas in town. They often got requests from neighbors and church friends to design them for birthday parties.

My favorite piñata that they ever made was for my own birthday party. Instead of filling it with small toys or hard candy, they individually wrapped turtle chocolate cupcakes in small boxes with transparent film on the top and secured them to the inside with toothpicks.

Imagine the screams of happiness when ten children saw chocolate-caramel-nutty cupcakes falling from the sky. They stashed plenty of them in there, so no one had to fight over them.

By icecream17 — On Jul 18, 2011

@Crispety - I know that things like this happen, but I think that a lot of kids really like hunting for more candy and other piñata fillers. It can be a lot of fun.

I think that adults should help younger kids in order to make the process fair. You really have to see the look on those kids faces when the first bit of candy falls to the ground.

It is amazing to watch. I think that the pull string piñatas are better than the ones that you have to hit with a stick because those can take forever to pop.

By Crispety — On Jul 17, 2011

I know that birthday party piñatas are really popular addition to most kid’s parties but I really don’t like them. I always feel bad for the kids that didn’t get that much candy.

The older kids always do better than the younger kids and I don’t think it is fair at all. I have seen a lot of young kids cry because they did not get as much candy as some of the other kids.

What I like to do instead is offer each child a goody bag at the end of the party that is filled with candy so all of the children receive the same amount of candy and no one feels bad. I usually get a combination of pinata fillers and bags of candy to fill my goody bags.

By strawCake — On Jul 16, 2011

@Monika - That does sound like quite a letdown as far as what was in the piñata. At least you got to take a swing at it though!

However, don't feel too sad for kids these days. I know the alternative piñata with the string is out there, but the other version is alive and well too. The last few birthday parties I went to that featured a piñata had the kind you hit with a bat.

I must admit I was a little scared one of the children was going to get hit with the bat too, but everything turned out fine!

By Monika — On Jul 15, 2011

Maybe it's just me, but I think pulling a string on the bottom of the piñata instead of hitting it takes away all the fun! When I was a kid, I would have been pretty disappointed about not getting to actually swing at the piñata.

Although actually, the only time I got a piñata was pretty disappointing. My mom is extremely health conscious, so my piñata wasn't full of actual candy. It was full of healthy "candy alternatives" such as raisins and carob. Yuck.

By GardenTurtle — On Jun 11, 2011

@anon40805- I'm not quite sure what you mean by a "boys pinata" but some boys might prefer pinatas like a car pinata or even train pinatas.

My son loves music and we had two guitar pinatas at his party and he loved them!

By anon40805 — On Aug 11, 2009

can you show me a boys pinata?

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