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 term "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.
Looking for ways to teach the Christian religion among 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 priase 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.