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…
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…
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.