One thing I have noticed about living on the U.S./Mexico border is that people take their piñatas seriously around here.
This is serious business. You’ll see what I mean.
Growing up, I’d seen images of piñatas and even whacked a couple, but I remember they seemed much smaller than the ones we’re accustomed to seeing nowadays. The little rainbow burro piñata I remember swatting was probably the height and width of the bunny ears on the gargantuan piñata you see below.
That photo was taken at a party last year and that’s our daughter getting ready to go to town on the thing.
To show the scale of these behemoth piñatas, here’s a Dora The Explorer piñata that towered over another party’s diminutive guests.
And, here’s another: a Cinderella piñata taller than the 6 year old birthday-girl.
Do you see?
People in these parts actually make these things! With vigor!
But, back to that giant bunny piñata…
I recall a note I received from a friend of mine whose son became distressed because the head of the paper mache giraffe he’d been playing with for weeks leading up to his birthday party had been summarily whacked off with violent zeal during the party.
It was the first party he’d ever had with a piñata. That giraffe had become his buddy. And, just like that! BAM!!! It was missing a head. Forever.
My friend wrote to me and said that she now always recommends that young kids receive piñatas in “non-living shapes” to avoid potentially stressing the child out.
This reminded me of some parental banter about the logic and messaging of the piñata event for a young child.
In conversations with another mother, I learned that there are parents and even psychologists, that are uncomfortable with the encouragement-to-violence embodied in a piñata. You can read about that HERE.
Basically, the idea that a young child would be encouraged to hit something by authority figures, who routinely discourage the hitting of anything in any other circumstance, coupled with expectation that the child should aggressively decimate something made in the image that he or she loves WOULD seem to send a sort of mixed signal to a kid.
That may be true for some.
My friend’s son’s experience with that poor, decapitated paper giraffe DID SEEM to support that theory.
But, again, let’s get back to that giant bunny piñata and our very girl-y, very fashion-y, very dainty 4-year old.
She didn’t seem to struggle too much with hurting that massive crinkly bunny.
She didn’t seem to bear any of those afflictions or psychological aversions to executing something in the image of living thing.
I don’t know.
Maybe I’m just too subjective in my reading of her body language and facial expressions as her mother.
What do you think?
But, back to the seriousness of the piñata event.
You can see that the sheer size of these things and the creative work that goes into them is big business.
I hear that along the Mexico side of the Rio Grande, one of the reasons that there is not an abundance of the invasive specie of cane that plagues the U.S. side of the Rio, is because the piñata-makers actually use the abundant cane to supply the recurring demand.
But, when you live in a place where piñata events are a sort of party-rite for children, it is not surprising that many venues actually have built-in piñata cages like this one at a local pizza place.
There are even signs on the cage letting patrons know that the party place may provide the cage, the rope, the pulley system and the pizza, you better remember to bring your own piñata stick, Buddy.
Piñatas are so prevalent that they are even considered to be a sort of nuisance for many venues whose contracts for use explicitly state what TYPE of piñata can be used.
For instance, contracts for use of HOA-run pavilions (also known as palapas) and city-run parks specify that piñata messes must be cleaned up or that confetti-filled piñatas are not permitted.
But, enough about that.
Let’s get into the real meat of this post- and that is to describe the many, empirically-defined ways that you should (or more importantly, how you should NOT) run a piñata event should you decide to give it a go.
For many people who grew up in a piñata culture, running the event probably doesn’t seem like a logistical or logical nightmare.
If you grow up around piñatas, you probably know what you are doing.
It really IS probably a no-brainer. It’s probably like remembering to bring spoons for the ice cream and forks for the cake.
Even if you lack a hook, a stick, or a rope, you’ll probably know how to improvise, adapt and overcome in a way that makes you still emerge a Piñata Hero.
But, I will also show you in photos and pictures, that for those people who do NOT grow up attending piñata events every few months of our lives, that throwing a seamless piñata event is actually a sort of science.
Seriously. It’s like the mystical-type of science that almost looks like voodoo magic to the ignorant pupil on the first observation.
Let us begin with some of the things you need to watch out for, shall we?
First and foremost, you should be sure that you do not purchase cruddy, little, pull-string piñatas from the local party or grocery store.
Let us please forget what it appears that Batman is doing to Spiderman in the photo. That is just a snickering aside for the juvenile adult males at the party.
The REASON that there are two piñatas, in the first place, is because we realized that just one would be insufficient for the number of clamoring children who would be there.
Do you see the little ribbons dangling from the bottoms of the piñatas?
Those are NOT decorative accessories like I, and other moms and dads as you will soon see, believed when we purchased them for twenty-five bucks each.
Those are “pull-strings” intended to be yanked so that kids don’t need to beat the crap out of the things.
This goes back to that discussion of the parenting philosophy of non-violence. If you know you are buying a pull-string piñata and you do so for moral reasons as a piñata-event conscientious objector, then “Rock On, And Good For You For Sticking To Your Figurative And Non-Violent Water Guns!”
But, if you have children older than the age of 3, the odds are not good that you really meant to buy a pull-string piñata.
And the reason I know this is because even a 4-year old will look at one of these things and think, ardently and out loud, that you are a lame parent.
Furthermore, these particular types of pull-string piñatas also come with a handy little opening receptacle in the back that facilitates rapid candy flow with the slightest tap.
This means that when a child DOES hit the pull-string piñata because you didn’t know you bought a pull-string piñata (forget that we bought TWO), that all the candy will start to fall out by the time the second kid in the 30-kid line gets to even step up.
The photo above was actually taken recently at another birthday party.
You should note that the mother of this little boy purchased THE EXACT SAME Batman pull-string piñata that I had a year earlier.
When I saw it sitting on her table, I told her about what we’d learned the year before.
“Oh! I thought those ribbons on the bottom were for decoration!” she laughed.
I know, right?!!??!
So, the time came to hit it, and they strung it up by the little tab the piñata came attached to from the store to a limbo bar because no one had a rope. Or a hook.
The birthday boy was first in line.
He hit it once.
Another piñata fail, folks.
The funny thing is that I was standing next to a couple of hispanic women who had lived in Laredo their entire lives.
I told them that we had made a similar mistake the previous year, and we bought the same piñata, and the same thing happened.
They said, “Ha! We were just talking about that! We were laughing about the pull-string piñata. And the limbo bar. And the missing rope. And…”
I’m going to get to the part where I tell you how to run a successful piñata event.
But, first, I am going to tell you what else has gone wrong at our piñata events, and here goes:
- We forgot to buy a piñata stick. Actually, we didn’t know they made sticks expressly for that purpose, but we see them everywhere now for about 10 bucks.
- So, we brought our daughter’s plastic, electronic Snow White broom. It played “Whistle While You Work” as you made sweeping motions. Well, it DID play that song until it broke in half on the second swing of the Batman-Spidey piñata event.
- Someone’s kid played tee-ball so a friend retrieved a BASEBALL BAT from his car for us to complete the event.
- This is not recommended.
- When the second child in line got up to swing the baseball bat (did I tell you that was a bad idea?), the piñatas crashed down because the HEMP TWINE that I took out of my craft kit BROKE in half. Apparently, you’re supposed to use rope or something.
- So, while the kids waited in line for another 5 minutes (with 28 more kids left to get a whack and we were on kid number 2 still) and my husband quadrupled up that craft twine and re-hung the piñatas which continued to shake out candy with every movement.
- We got to Kid #3 and one fell swoop later with that baseball bat that, thankfully, did not cause any prolonged concussions, those pull-string piñatas were COMPLETELY OBLITERATED.
- One girl started bawling.
- I mean, REALLY BAWLING.
- When I asked her what was wrong, she wailed, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING!!!!!! YOU’RE DOING IT ALL WRONG!!!!!!!”
- More Wailing.
- Essentially….we sucked at that piñata event.
- I mean…A LOT.
If you are a visual person, here’s a picture I drew of what it was like.
But, no worries.
I recently polled Critters And Crayons readers for suggestions about how to run a successful piñata event.
You can see their excellent suggestions HERE.
In a nutshell, make sure you:
- Buy a REAL piñata
- Lay a tarp down for easy clean-up
- Use a real rope
- Make sure you have a piñata stick
- Hand out treat bags before the event
- Have a person manage the piñata line and safety zone
- Smallest kids go first
- Give the kids just 3 strikes
- Sing the “Dale! Dale! Dale!” song
- Have extra bags of candy to shake out in case you need more or little ones don’t get enough
But, probably one of the greatest challenges to any piñata event is always going to be where to hang the thing.
There aren’t always trees with sturdy branches, or large hooks and pulley systems for parents to use.
Some people attempt to overcome this challenge by standing on a chair and they actually hold the piñata themselves for a child to indiscriminately swing at it. The Batman in costume in the photos above ended up trying that. He was saved because the candy all fell out of that pull-string piñata by Kid #3.
Regardless, The Stand-On-A-Chair-And-Hold-The-Piñata Solution is a bad one.
It’s a bad idea because even a giant by human proportions would not have sufficient arm-reach to ensure a safety zone that could prevent the sterilization or shattered knee caps of any male victim who agreed to stand on that chair with arms outstretched holding that candy-filled demon.
The bad-idea-ness of this “solution” is further exacerbated if the child is either 1) wearing a blind-fold, or 2) swinging a baseball bat (Um. Again. See above image based on true events).
If all of those factors have been brought to bear, then really, a merciful party-goer should just summon the paramedics as soon as the first child starts swinging.
But, let’s get back to where and how to hang a piñata when there really doesn’t appear to be any place to suspend the thing.
We have learned that, around here, there really are NO EXCUSES for messing this tiny detail up when you are a seasoned piñata event do-er.
And, here’s how I know that.
Look at this photo.
That gigantic cowgirl piñata is hanging from a rope that has been stretched to a rooftop up on the left.
Do you see that?
People, that rope is not secured by a nail, or a knot, or any other inanimate thing.
This photo was taken at a friend’s birthday party and that gargantuan piñata is suspended from a rope that is stretched between a rooftop and an 8-foot cement wall in my friend’s backyard.
My friend sent PEOPLE (as in Willing Human Beings) up on that roof and on that wall to HOLD THAT ROPE so that they could make that piñata event happen.
Don’t believe me?
Seriously, there were dudes yanking on both ends of that rope, one wearing shoes with excellent traction up on a slanted rooftop, so that they could provide a child with a real and successful piñata experience. They made the thing bob up and down as the kids swung at it WHILE LITERALLY DEFYING DEATH ON BOTH ENDS OF THAT ROPE.
Every once in a while we’d see one of the guys look like they were going to lose their balance and careen to the ground. As arms flailed and eyes widened to see how it would end, party-goers cheered when the rope-holders regained their balance to start yanking and pulling that piñata for the next kid to start pounding on it.
Is this not serious stuff?
And do you know what?
Do you know whose party that was?
Remember the little girl who was wailing at our awfully-executed piñata-event?
It was totally her party.
It all made sense!
She must have been, like, “LOOK, MAMA! THERE ARE LOTS AND LOTS OF PERFECTLY GOOD ROOFS FOR THESE PEOPLE TO POSSIBLY FALL OFF OF TO STRING THAT THING UP PROPERLY! WHO USES PULL-STRINGS??? A TOY BROOM? A BAT? NO ROPE?? WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE? WAIT A MINUTE……ARE THOSE RAISINS???? BAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!”
I’d have wailed, too, if I had known we were being measured against this rooftop/wall-balancing event standard.
Do you see what I mean about piñata events being serious business around here?
Death-defying. They are death-defying.
It doesn’t get more serious than that.
But, now, I think we’re ready to try again and maybe, armed with all of this non-intuitive and pain-forged knowledge, we’ll pull off a piñata event without issue.
The good news is that even if you run a bad one, the end state generally is the same.
Unless you or one of your party guests comes from a family where all the uncles are trapeze artists, rope walkers or who are otherwise simply unafraid of dying in order to make the piñata event a booming success.
Then, there may be tears and wailing and you should just wear a badge that says “Yes. I’m A Piñata LOSER” .
Wear it with pride that you were also the best.
You were the best failure at the piñata event imaginable.
Congratulations that you sucked so bad that you made a little girl cry.
We’re all supposed to be good at something in this life.
May as well be that.
GOOD LUCK TO YOU, PARENTS!
LET US KNOW HOW YOUR ADVENTURES WITH THE GIANT PAPER MACHE BEASTS GO!