The Christmas season in Mexico is filled with very colorful customs, among which are the traditional piñata and the postada. Both traditions exist thanks to an early Augustinian in Mexico, Diego de Soria O.S.A.
Piñatas originated in Italy where the Italian word "pignatta" means pot. The Mexican piñata has its roots in Italy, where legend says Roman soldiers would hang clay pots and try to hit them with their swords while their eyes were covered with a cloth. From there, the game spread to Spain, where it became a tradition in Lent (before Easter).
There is also the story that Marco Polo brought a similar tradition from China, in which the piñata was in the shape on an animal used in the fields, such as a bull or ox. It is filled with various seeds, and was struck open at the celebration of the Chinese New Year. An ancient custom during Lent in Italy was to hand out pots filled with gifts to farm workers.
The practice later spread to Spain where it became customary to romper la olla (break the pot) on the first Sunday of Lent. The tradition became widely known as Domingo de Piñata (Sunday of the Piñata). The first documented piñata in Mexico was strung up by the Augustinians at Acolman. It was described by an Augustinian historian of the 16th century, Juan de Grijalva O.S.A. (1580-1638).
Early missionaries first introduced the custom to Mexico. The interruption of agricultural labours during the Conquista (Conquest) had brought on many epidemics and famine. They looked for way to evangelise the indigenous population. The Augustinians at the Acolman convento (Priory) were very creative. They invited the hungry Indians to strike at clay pots filled with fruits and peanuts as a way to have them present at theatrical presentations staged during the Christmas season to teach the story of the birth of Christ. Before long bits of cloth and paper where being attached to the pots to make the breaking of the piñata more festive. This gave origin to the piñatas that are now such an important part of the celebration of Christmas in Mexico.
The most traditional form for Christmas piñatas is a star with seven points that represent the seven deadly sins. Thus breaking the piñata is considered to be the destruction of evil forces: the eternal struggle of good versus evil. The attractive exterior of the piñata stands for temptation, while the person with covered eyes who is swinging at the piñata personifies blind faith. The sweets spilling from the broken pot represent the rewards that await the Christian in heaven.
Although probably unknown to the Augustinians at the time, there was an ancient parallel to the piñata tradition already in the past history of Mexico. A clay pot was decorated to look like a cloud for some of the rites in praise of Tlaloc, the Rain God. When it was broken, it would shower down food and good things to the ground, much as the rain brought crops and flowers to the people.
Perhaps the best known manifestation of the Christmas spirit in Mexico are the traditional Posadas. One is held each night on the nine days between 16th December and Christmas eve. An Augustinian historian in the 16th century, Juan de Grijalva O.S.A., explained how this practice began. He said that the Augustinians were looking for a way to make Christian a December festival celebrating the birth of the Aztec god, Huitzlipochtli.
The origin of the Posadas goes back to 1587, when Diego de Soria O.S.A., in the Augustinian monastery (convento) of Acolman (photo above), sent a request to the Pope. In August 1587, Pope Sixtus V gave permission for Diego de Soria O.S.A. to have special outdoor Masses and celebrations from 16th to 24th December to coincide with the Indian holiday. These Masses came to be called "Aguinaldo" or Christmas gift Masses. Soon they were being celebrated throughout New Spain (Mexico). To teach the Christian tradition, these masses, held in the church atriums, were interspersed with scenes alluding to Christmas.
To attract a crowd, the members of the Order of Saint Augustine used used decorated lights, fireworks, Christmas songs, piñatas, luces de bengala, cohetes and villancicos. By the late 1700s the Masses had become social rather than religious. The archbishop of Mexico City complained about the noise and lack of respect to the holy rites. Slowly the celebration of the Missas del Aguinaldo began to be reduced in favour of home celebrations.
These celebrations within the family took the name of Las Posadas, as the search of Joseph and Mary for an inn became the central mystery celebrated in this folk novena. The word, Las Posadas, is Spanish for "the inns." The Las Posadas centres on the journey to Bethlehem of Joseph and the Virgin Mary just before the birth to the baby Jesus. In earlier times, a boy and girl were chosen to represent the Virgin and Joseph, but now a group of people carrying candles visits several houses asking for lodging with a traditional song that contains a question and an answer.
The group sings, "¿Quién darä posada a cstos peregrinos que vienen cansados de andar los caminos?" (Who will give lodging to these pilgrims who are tired of travelling on the roads?). The voice inside the house answers," Posada no damos ni podemos dar que pueden ser ladrones que vienen a robarî " (We do not give lodging, nor can we give any, because you could be thieves who come to rob). The traditional Spanish melody of Las Posadas is sung even to this day throughout the Southwest of the United States of America and all of Mexico by both rural and urban dwellers.
The people inside the first two houses refuse them, and at the third one the group is invited inside. The more religious celebrations may include prayer, but most often the event now becomes a party. The adults are given a thick fruit punch with a little alcohol to ward off the cold.
Mexican Christmas Traditions: Posada, Piñatas, Nacimiento. Diego de Soria O.S.A. is mentioned. http://www.mexicoylacuencadelpacifico.cucsh.udg.mx/en/noticia/mexican_christmas_traditions_posada_pinatas_nacimiento_0