Explainer: What can I expect from a Venezuelan “Piñata”?

So, you’ve been invited to your first Venezuelan Piñata. Don’t fret my dear non-Venezuelan. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know to enjoy – or at least survive - your first Venezuelan kiddie birthday party.

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What is a Piñata?

In Venezuela, piñata refers both to the decorated cardboard figurine which you whack with a stick, and to the birthday party per se. Piñatas in Venezuela are in no ways limited to children and you will often find that the kid-adult ratio skews alarmingly toward the adult end. Piñatas are family and friend affairs, so even coworker Luis, unwed and childless, will be invited.  And as invitee, you should…

…Get there at the “right time.”

Notice I didn’t say punctual. Unless this piñata has a very definitive time-frame, like 3:00 to 5:00, or it’s being held at a McDonalds or those party places with video games and climbing walls, DON’T BE GERMAN PUNCTUAL, be Venezuelan punctual.  This is probably the best advice I can give you. I know you’ve calculated your time, and you’re sure that if you leave in 10 minutes you will arrive at 4 o’clock sharp, just like the invitation stated.

Don’t do it.

Don’t get in your car, instead, call your host. Tell them you are very sorry, but are likely to be 15 to 20 minutes late. He or she will probably laugh and tell you that they’re still putting the frosting on the cake, or actually at the supermarket buying the last of the nachos and dips, just finishing lunch at a restaurant, or still getting the birthday kiddo ready. Now, wait a little longer. Arrive 20 to 30 minutes later than established on the invitation, that is to say arrive on time.

Before you go, do stop at a gas station on the way and…

Pick up a Bag of Ice.

It always runs out mid party. Bringing a bag of ice will brand you as being de pinga, a very highly regarded trait among Venezuelans. Ice is used for the soft drinks, obviously, but also, the beers really need to be ice cold and whisky is usually served on the rocks. Oh, you seem confused, didn’t you know there would be…

Alcohol, plenty.

No piñata is complete without some type of alcohol. Beer is the drink of choice, but you can almost always find Sangria, Vodka and Whisky. “But It’s a kid’s party” you say. Take a look around, there are like 4, adults for every kid.  Don’t drink, if it’s not your thing, but I highly recommend it, because, soon you (and your issue) will need to face the ordeal that is…

The actual Piñata.

The adults are buzzed up on alcohol and fried cheese-stuffed dough (the sacred tequeños), the kids are running around wide-eyed like little savages, pumped up on high fructose corn syrup and mini hot dogs. The host shouts “IT’S TIME FOR THE PIÑATA”. The music stops abruptly, the kids go mad, the adults hurriedly round up the kids, plastic bags are handed out, everyone starts circling the hanging figurine and chanting “PIÑATA, PIÑATA, PIÑATA”. At about this time, you may find yourself getting a little nervous, it is starting to feel like you’re in for some kind of ritual sacrifice…you are.

The only halfway orderly thing will be the line of kids waiting to beat the piñata. Many will cut in line, reconcile yourself with this. Also, beware of the swinging sticks.

If you have a kid and his turn comes up to hit the piñata, you need to quickly size up the situation. Unless everybody has had at least one go at the stick, you have to inform your child that under no circumstance is he to take that piñata down. The fun would be spoiled for everyone and you will instantly lose your de pinga  status.

Once every kid has taken their turn at inflicting corporal punishment upon the piñata, it will be ripped in two by some adult. A stream of cheap candy and useless little plastic toy filling will fall from the sky. This is by far, the most dangerous part. Do not, I repeat, do not let your kid leap inside the melée.

Keep him on the perimeter, plenty of candy and toys will fall that way. Some of your kid’s piñata prizes will get stolen by other kids and maybe some adults. Don’t sweat it, it is the piñata way.

Soon after the piñata’s remains are cleared up, your host will notify you that it’s time for the…

Birthday Cake.

The mayhem of the piñata behind, people will start to circle around the table, lights will go off, and you will hear the longest happy birthday song of your life. Seriously, it’s like 5 stanzas.

The Birthday kid will be handed a knife to make the first cut on the cake, don’t worry. Birthday Kid will scream while cutting the first slice, don’t worry either, they didn’t cut themselves, they’re just making a very loud wish.

Eat Cake, Quesillo and Colorful Gelatin, the three basic staples of the Venezuelan birthday table. Wash it down with some sangria, you’ve earned it.

Any time after the cake is considered appropriate to leave. So, bid your farewells to the host and birthday kid. And congratulations, you have just survived your first Piñata and hopefully, left as a musiú de pinga.

 

25 COMMENTS

  1. I never liked the piñatas, even as a kid. I did like the candies but not enough to get into a mosh pit for them. I always waited for the cake, keeping a safe distance from the bochinche. Now that I think about it my parents probably tried to explain to the compadres that I was different every time that happened haha

  2. The chants during the piñata wreck are more like “¡Dale! ¡Dale!” (Hit it! Hit it!), with some (drunkies) even shouting “¡Púyala!” (Nail it!)… Oh man, I miss that 🙁

  3. I have seen piñatas at all-adult parties too. The “filling” included condoms, cheap women’s panties, and many other items I never expected to spill out of a piñata. The site of all the adults reverting to crazed pre-adolescent savages scuffling over and scooping up these “treasures” was a little disturbing. Only in Venezuela…

  4. I never had a piñata myself because I didn’t make a fuss of my birthday. I did go to birthday parties where there were piñatas – the traditional Venezuelan way-, still it was mostly just a birthday event for kids.

    Once in Scotland we organised a university day of Latin America once where we had a piñata. There were families from all over the world and all kids loved it…but I guess we did it in a rather civilized, again traditional way. When it came to the children hitting the piñata, I do remember people at the start were not sure what to say: “Go, go, go”, “Yes, yes” were some of the words used initially…until my memories came back to me of those few piñata parties I had been to and I started to shout:
    “dale dale, dale, daaaleeee!”
    Then everyone- Chinese, Mexican, Scottish, German and Iranian alike, joined in: “dale, dale, dale!”

  5. Pinatas : a ritual of frenzied savagery , of raw colourfully choreographed kiddie violence and raw primitive greed which is great FUN , for both kids and their parents , tells you a lot about the culture and temper of hispanics raised in tropical climes . We feel the need for certain customs that allow us to ‘let go’ of normal restraints and repressions , that allow us to step outside the boundaries of a regulated social life……, another kindred custom: the wild joyous way we celebrate carnivals, for example by throwing liquids and eggs at each other . Of course we also have ‘ la sala’ where kids bunch up and merrily beat up one of their numbers ‘just for fun’, there is a delight in flaunting the formalities of civilized life , in expressing our raw passions without let or hindrance, its something our mediterranean ancestors never knew ………but which is a normal part of life in hispanic america……..wonder why that is…….?? Sometimes I wonder whether we are attracted to chaos , to a free wheeling indulgence in the expression of our most visceral appetites ………sometimes in ways that superficially mask their brutality, When a govt is overthrown people throng to the homes of the once powerful and prominent to sack their houses ……when the Deslave people went to the appartments of absent vacationeers and sacked them of every valuable they had , when the Caracazo people sacked stores laughing and as if in a pinata mood, If a truck carrying food experiences an accident on the road , people from all over break open the doors of the truck and take everything inside , also with merry abandon…….is there something in our collective pysche that predisposes us to the enjoyment of acts of looting ?? Of grabing anything which can be had for free !!

    • Oh please, bájale mil. You rant as if all rules, social conventions and norms of civilization were not invented by men, newsflash: they are! & Thus there are a million different ways to express culture, it doesn’t mean that only one is valid and all else is primitive, savage – you sound like a colonizer justifying oppression, or like you support the political usage of Übermensch mentality as you try to allege that hispanic, tropical temperament is somehow inherently inferior. Or that something of that sort even exists, a temperament true for all “tropical hispanics” as if we all are genetically doomed to be just the same when in fact diversity in everything exists everywhere.

      There are many similarly rambunctious traditions in other, non-tropical cultures, wild drinking is commonplace even in Germany, Ireland, Spain…a bachelor party or a carnival, or a black friday pretty much anywhere in the world is just as boisterous and “un-civilized, un-restrained” (*gasp*) Talk about the fall of the Roman Empire to witness excess or of the French Monarchy, I mean seriously – Also, when the government is overthrown ANYWHERE, there are saqueos, go to a library and check out a history book – disorder is borne out of conflict and not from a “cultural predisposition,” greed exists everywhere, so does crime and instability, looting and shitty individuals.

      Humans are animals, even if we like to forget that and pretend we are not, don’t condemn the whole “culture and temper of hispanics raised in tropical climates” – it is so generalized and absolutist that it makes you sound like a person fond of stereotypes and prejudices. Talking about “our collective pysche-predispositions” makes you sound like a pseudo-intellectual quack.

      Sorry for the intensity, it’s not personal and only directed at your little rant here – Saludos.

  6. Hilarious. I would just add, it would be remiss not to inform the musiu that you’ve got to dress to the nines for a piñata party. Dress like you would for the holiday office party. Said musiu is used to throwing on yesterday’s change of clothes, dropping the kid off at precisely the start time of the party (to the second), confirming the end time with the host and muttering thanks, and if he’s lucky, immediately returning home for a nap.

  7. When I used to take my kids (2-3 years old or so) to a pinata, one of my big tasks was to make sure they didn’t end up crying at the end of the mayhem. So I would strategically sit them towards the outer circle and would stand right behind them. This would allow me to divert any pushes or accidental punches that came close to them, and also to make sure I pushed some candy their way. Then one day I realized they were old enough that it would look bad if I did this. Since they, they were on their own! I’m glad to report they survived.

  8. The only pinata I had as a kid was in Mexico and it was done correctly, with a swinging bobbing pinata and a blindfold, now THAT was a lot of fun! As an adult we once had a “drunken” pinata and it was filled with, you guessed it…..minature bottles, that too was a lot of fun!

  9. I once went to a Mexican piñata thingie for adults. Inside the piñata were lovely bits of candy, a few cookies, a few crappy toys, and the traditional dozen or so marijuana cigarettes. (Can you say: de piiingaaaaa) ? We couldn’t.

    • Ha! Brings to mind another interesting cultural difference. I’m just trying to imagine what would happen if musiu were to show up at the above scenario with a spliff. He would probably be regarded as the opposite of de pinga (maricon? Mamawhatever? Chavista?). In Canada, he would be regarded by most as an exceptional humanitarian.

      Ice and whisky. Lots of it.

  10. I expect to see a Venezuela “piñata” pretty soon – where the entire government is smashed apart and all the “goodies” are snatched up.

    It will happen when the chavernment is finally forced to give up power. The pattern is what happened in Nicaragua when the ruling Sandinistas lost the presidential election. The Sandinistas handed over power – but first, they looted all government offices of everything that was portable – computers, cars, furniture, appliances, electronics, tools, and of course cash.

    The Venezuela “piñata” could be even worse; chavistas have already shown that they regard the state as property of their party.

  11. I’ve never had a piñata as a kid, I was a Jehovah’s Witness xD it was very funny as an adult going to some kids parties and see what was all about.

  12. This is actually my memory of how Venezuelan piñatas really are:

    1) The arrival of the cumpleañero’s friends. Hugs, hi-fives, and so on.
    2) Clowns, and magician entertain the kids (if there is enough budget)
    3) Music games (here we start with the kiddie songs we have heard a gazillion times, over and over).
    4) More music games, and more kiddie music.
    5) A coup d’etat take place. The adults, that are a “little bit tipsy” take over. The DJ is gagged, and is forced to comply with their demands. The music “suddenly” change.
    6) The beginning of Salsa brava, and reaggetón PUYUOOOO.
    7) More salsa, merengue, and reaggetón. The kids are bored, and prefer to play with their Playstation, waiting for the inevitable hangover period.
    8) The tearing of the piñata. Some kids get something. Most don’t get anything. And boy, those ones are pissed.
    9) The kids coudn’t be more bored. They just wish to go home, and get this over with. Heavily drunken adults yell: “pero buenoooo, saca a bailarrr a fulanitaaaaa, aprende a bailaaaarrr, mira que el que no sabeeee bailaaarrr se quedaaaa sin noviaaaaaaa”
    10) The DJ dancing (pachanga) repertoire is becoming exceedingly scarce. So he turn to romantic ones, in the vane hope the adults get their shit together, and get the hell out of there. The kids begin to see a ray of hope.
    11) The DJ now plays chatarritas. No hangover in sight. Hating-church kids begin to pray, so this hell ends once and for all.
    12) The junta de condominio arrives to ask them to turn down the music. They issue a warning to the host, and make him remember that “mañana es día de trabajo”. The adults, reluctantly leave. Kids celebrate. At last.

    Not the greatest of memories. Make me kind of happy for my sobrinas abroad, that won’t live that travesty.

  13. Piñatas are the kind of conspicuous consumption event that belies our national crisis. Some parents go out of their way to host wasteful parties for their kids, full of phony decorations, booze, dirty music and staged events. As if we were still a normal country. There’s no community building, only competition to see which family can spend more, “give the kids what we didn’t have”, and all that.

    I know that domestic entertainment and parties are a cottage industry, but it is more of a look at our pitiful mores: fill an ugly ersatz of a cartoon figure, with expensive but low quality candy, cheap and useless plastic toys which will only serve to enrich some Chinese mogul and to add volume to a landfill; then, elbow and kick your way into the treasure, witnessing how parents fight other people’s kids for a broken doll. No wonder a piñata is a great metaphor for our oil riches.

  14. Of all the bonches I partied through in Valencia with my two daughters, piñata and sin piñata, virtually every one was a ritual excuse for us adultos to get our drink on. If the party was announced beforehand that no licor was allowed or would be present, and anyone drinking would not be welcome, said bonche never comes down. At least not in my family. When most of us eventually sobered up, the parties we threw were actually for the kids, and were no longer an excuse for us to tie one on. For those old enough to remember what holidays were like on Margarita, you get the idea. The idea of ever taking the the ferry across and not drinking the while while was incomprehensible. Eventually we, like the kids, had to grow up. the ones who didn’t simply died. That’s the shadow side of the whole business, and the shadow side of socialism is what is coming down now. But nothing dies easy, especially when there were such salad days (for some) in the long-ago past…

  15. Why is it that some of the posters here try all the time to ridicule stuff that happens as tradition in Venezuela?
    I am pretty sure that most of you that have had the chance to live outside found your first non-venezuelan party (adult) a total bore. Kids parties, well they do not exist in the north. They go to the movies or the paintball or whatever.

    Yes we drink with everything and everywhere.
    Guess what? Up north too. They just are ashamed to show their kids how stupid they get after a couple of drinks, so they separate the adults from the kids.

  16. I think I’m pretty smart (until I make a mistake). But I have tried for years to express the fatal flaws in “socialism” and have generally not been able to adequately state them. This piece below is, to me, really brilliant. On the wild guess that this pinata piece could be read as a parody of socialism, in which you have an economy busted wide open to spill candies and plastic toys to the children who beat it with sticks while the adults watch, drunk … I think this piece is relevant. In case internet in Venezuela doesn’t let you access this website, I’ve copied the article.

    http://elvenezolanonews.com/2016/04/09/que-es-un-socialista-por-alfredo-bullard/

    (09 de abril de 2016. El Venezolano).- La mejor definición que he encontrado de socialista es: “Persona que cree que puede decidir mejor qué es bueno para los demás”.

    Ser socialista se deriva de la arrogancia de pensar que los demás no pueden valerse por sí mismos. Asume que la libertad de decisión es peligrosa para las personas, pues si las dejamos decidir terminarán peor que antes. Entonces el socialista parte de un “complejo de superioridad”: por una razón que no explica, él sabe más de mí que yo mismo.

    Sabe mejor qué debo comprar y qué no. Sabe mejor bajo qué condiciones me conviene trabajar y a qué me debo dedicar. Sabe mejor que los consumidores lo que deben consumir y mejor que las empresas cómo deben producir. Y si el socialista da el pasito que lo separa del comunista, sabe mejor quién debe gobernar, qué puede o no puede expresar alguien públicamente y en qué país debo vivir.

    El socialismo debe limitar nuestra libertad, porque en esencia la libertad es la facultad de decidir sobre nuestro destino. El socialista se apropia de ese destino.

    Pero no solo nos priva de nuestra libertad. Nos priva de la otra cara de la moneda. No hay libertad sin responsabilidad. Si otro decide por mí, me liberan de la responsabilidad sobre las consecuencias de mis decisiones: si elijo mal no asumo los costos de mis decisiones. Equivocarse ya no es mi problema, es problema de los demás, a los que les traslado dicho costo.

    Por eso es que los socialistas no hablan de responsabilidad a secas sino de responsabilidad social: el resto de la sociedad está obligada a asumir las consecuencias de mis decisiones, sean buenas o malas.

    Pero la responsabilidad social es un sinsentido. Hayek decía que la palabra ‘social’ es una palabra envenenada (una palabra “comadreja”), pues añadida a cualquier otra la convierte en su antónimo: “democracia social” es precisamente la negación del sistema democrático, “derecho social” es justamente un derecho vaciado de la individualidad que le da sentido, “propiedad social” es la ausencia de propiedad. Responsabilidad social es irresponsabilidad pura.

    La libertad y la responsabilidad son en esencia individuales. Cuando dejan de serlo se convierten en su antónimo, como ocurre en la Cuba de los hermanos Castro o la Venezuela de Nicolás Maduro.

    Así, el socialismo genera un problema moral y un problema práctico.

    El problema moral es la expropiación de la dignidad humana al negar la libertad y la responsabilidad. Nos convierte en esclavos del gobernante (socialista) de turno. En eso no se diferencia de otras expresiones de signo ideológico distinto, como el fascismo. La diferencia está solo en los énfasis. No soy digno si no soy libre y no respeto la dignidad de los demás si no soy responsable.

    El problema práctico es que destruye todo el sistema de incentivos que genera el progreso. ¿Por qué esforzarme si el resultado del ejercicio libre de una actividad será expropiado por los demás mediante impuestos, prohibiciones, regulaciones? ¿Y por qué ser cuidadoso en decidir si el sistema político o legal me convertirá en irresponsable ante las consecuencias protegiéndome de mis propios errores? ¿Por qué esforzarme en mejorar mi vida si será el Estado el que se encargará de mejorarla?

    El socialismo lastra el crecimiento, genera pobreza, retraso, pero, sobre todo, pérdida de dignidad. Curiosamente, en nombre de la libertad, nos priva de ella, pues la confunde con la capacidad de hacer lo que uno quiere sin la responsabilidad de asumir sus consecuencias. Es, por tanto, inherentemente irresponsable. Como decía Bastiat, el socialismo no se conforma con que la ley sea justa. Quiere que la ley sea filantrópica. Pero, en realidad, niega la filantropía como acto de desprendimiento y la convierte en una solidaridad forzada por la ley, lo que es una contradicción en términos.

    Por eso todos los políticos, sin excepción, son un poco socialistas. A todos les gusta dejarse seducir por el poder de hacer regalos con el patrimonio ajeno. A todos les gusta jugar a ser Robin Hood. El problema es que gobernar no es un juego.

    Como decía Churchill, “El socialismo es la filosofía del fracaso, el credo a la ignorancia, la prédica a la envidia. Su virtud inherente es la distribución igualitaria de la miseria”.

    Por: Alfredo Bullard / El Comercio

  17. LMAO.
    This is so right on the mark. My wife is a Venezuela expat. I am US midwest punctual. Every time we are going to a dinner date or party, we are fashionably late. It doesn’t matter that she is ready to go… we are always late.

  18. You missed to mention that the main thing on a Pinata is the birthday cake, it has to be an spectacular creation. The cake, the table and surrounding decorations are to be impressive, not to mention the expensive cotillones you’re supposed to give to the kids as a ‘thank you’ present.

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