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Piñata stamp debuts in Southern New Mexico


The U.S. Postal Service kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month and made the national introduction of its new piñata stamps at the 36th Annual Piñata Festival in Roswell Sept. 8.

The Forever stamps come in four designs — two donkeys and two seven-pointed stars — celebrating the traditional Mexican fiesta favorite.

This is the third consecutive year the Postal Service has issued a Hispanic-themed stamp. In September 2021, USPS issued Day of the Dead stamps, and in July 2022, Mariachi stamps.


Scholars believe piñatas might have their origins in China, where medieval European explorers described a New Year’s custom that sounds familiar to us today. A brightly decorated animal figurine was beaten with a stick until it broke open, releasing seeds contained in the hollow interior.

By the 14th century in Italy, a similar practice — possibly imported from China by Marco Polo — became part of festivities during the season of Lent. The Italians used an undecorated clay vessel called the pignatta (“fragile pot”), which was filled with sweets rather than seeds. As the custom migrated to Spain, breaking the pignatta — piñata in Spanish — evolved into a form of celebration on the first Sunday in Lent. The piñata came to the New World with Christian missionaries in the 16th century.

At the time of the Spanish arrival in what is now Mexico, the Indigenous people had their own traditions. The Aztecs, for example, decorated clay pots with feathers and filled them with small gifts. After hanging clay pots in front of statues of their gods, they struck the pots with sticks until the vessels broke and the treasures inside fell to the ground as offerings.

Spanish missionaries combined these ceremonies with their own Lenten tradition to attract Christian converts. Used as religious instruction, the piñata represented the devil and temptation. The blindfolded “player” symbolized blind faith armed with the stick of goodness; breaking open the piñata showed the triumph of good over evil.

Today, the piñata is still an important part of many celebrations in Mexico and the United States. Piñatas feature in all manner of festivities: holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and weddings. They are a traditional part of the posadas, a nine-day festival held in early December that commemorates Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus.

Though the meaning of breaking the piñata has evolved, the result is still the same: bounty for all.