I got out of the car and crossed the front yard. Lying the yard was a strange object, like a big torn paper doll with lots of black paper curly hair, with bits of string and paper scattered around it. I looked at it curiously, then went up to the house, where the princess was invited to a birthday party.

“We had a pinata! The princess didn’t know what a pinata was!”

I smiled politely. “Actually, I don’t know what a pinata is either.” 

“It’s such fun! We had made a big doll out of paper-mache, and filled it up with candies. Then we tied it up in the yard, and all took turn hitting it with sticks until it burst and tore and the candy fell out. It’s a Mexican game!”

I felt amazed. My first reaction was to scream “What a horrible, sick game!”. But that would not have been polite. So I continued smiling, took my daughter by the hand, and went back to the car, trying to not look at the poor mutilated paper doll lying in the yard, with her belly torn open and the sweets spilling out.

I don’t know- perhaps it is because when I was a child, my dolls were very real to me, and I felt they were just as alive, if not more so, than the humans around me. Perhaps it was the traumatic memory of my sister bursting into tears and sobbing at the sight of some relatives idly punching up an old doll. Perhaps it was simply the mental image of a gang of little girls all dressed in brightly coloured party clothes, their hair decorated and braided and pretty, whacking at a doll with a stick and screaming with joy. In any case, I felt it was a horrible horrible game, but I couldn’t resist questioning the princess about it later on.

-So did you beat up the doll as well?

-Yes! we all did! It wasn`t fair- I only had two turns!

-Why? How many turns did the others have?

-Some people whacked it three times, and that stupid Mary Jane whacked it four times!

-Did you enjoy whacking it? Did you want to hit it more?

The princess is clever. She sensed my tone was too carefully neutral and contrived. She answered my question with another question: “If you had been there, wouldn’t you have hit it? Would you have enjoyed it?”

I have enough experience as a mother to know it is futile to scream: `No! I would not! And I don’t want you playing that stupid horrible sick game ever ever again!` That would simply make pinata the most attractive and wonderful game in the world. I changed the subject. And tried to put the image of the torn paper doll with the black curly hair out of my mind.



  1. GoLi

    WoooooW! That sounds reaaally horrible to me tooo, it’s so sadistic. Who are they gonna torture when they grow up?!

    However the Princess is too kind n sentimental to get impressed by this so-called game.

  2. As you may know one of the kids hobbies in like 50 years ago has been burning a mouse and running after it and watching it burn. Sadegh Hedayat has illustrated a scene of this sick game in his “Haji Agha” book. It’s something that I could never been able to believe. How is it possible?enjoying by torturing an animal? That has been a very sick Iranian game that probably still is being played in some parts of our country.

  3. elsiem

    We played this game as children (though we didn’t know it was called pinata, and the “doll” was just a big parcel with lots of layers), but I’ve only just realised, reading your post, that it *is* a horrible, violent game. I am quite shocked that it had never occurred to me before! I guess it takes a “newcomer’s” view to surprise us into questioning things we’ve never given any thought to.

  4. thenewcomer

    I was thinking, if the object is like a box or a parcel, then it doesn’t “matter’ so much- i think it was the particuarly human aspect of the doll which bugged me. if it is just a box which is kicked around, it is more sort of ok- you know, like hockey or polo or any game where people run around hitting things with sticks.

  5. elsiem

    I agree that it’s *worse* if it’s human-shaped, but either way, taking a stick to something with the intention of destroying it (rather than, say, knocking it into a net) still strikes me as an odd thing to encourage children to do!

  6. WJ Porter

    Sorry, I have to step up on behalf of the Mexican people. Traditionally, it’s supposed to be shaped as a star, not a doll, and there’s a religious element, blah blah… But if I leave my cultural background on the side for a few seconds, I can see why waking a pending object with a stick while blindfolded looks like an absurd quasi-barbaric activity.
    Although piñatas are not as bad as those devil-shaped papier-mâché dolls we blow up with firecrackers after Easter. And all of the sudden my cultural background begins to scare me…

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