August 19, 1996

I never thought of my family as being a particularly violent bunch --
not until I took my girlfriend home for the ritualistic
Santa Slaying at the family Christmas party.

That's when I realized we are very lucky not to have a mass murderer among us.

On all birthdays and any holiday with religious significance my extended family, The Jimenez Clan, gathers at Grandma's house to beat the holy shit out of a piñata. It's not unusual to have a pretty pink Easter Bunny or a jolly Santa Claus to dismember. If you've never been a part of this traditional Mexican party event, you have no idea what you are missing. It's a great way to release aggression and violent tendencies. Unfortunately, the blood lust that accompanies the piñata beating is why we need an outlet for aggression and violent tendencies. The is the barrio version of EST.

Unfortunately, this tradition can lead to a lot of time on the couch. On my fifth birthday, my dad got a bird piñata with lots of flowing crepe paper and a big red beak. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Then they put that stick in my hand and told me to smash it. I freaked out. It got even worse when my cousin Paul actually broke it open. Cardboard, crepe paper and candy went flying and so did my little mind. For weeks afterwards I had nightmares of a piñata that turned into my mother's head. I'll bet if Freud was Mexican, there would be a word for this kind of trauma.

Like most traditions, each Latino family has its own variation. My family concentrates on coordination, aggression and mental torture. After a full day of eating and drinking ourselves silly, the kid's screams for the piñata reach the required decibel level and everyone staggers outside.

My grandma's house is an "L" shape with the driveway at the elbow. It's possible for two people, usually my cousins Steve and Gilbert, to climb up on the roof, stand on the corners and suspend a rope between them. The piñata is then hung from the rope so they can maneuver it up and down. If my cousins are drunk enough by this time, they will run back and forth on the edge of their respective roofs to make the piñata float. This complicated and often dangerous set-up is designed to make the kids froth at the mouth with frustration and anticipation. The kids don't know what would be better: candy falling from the piñata or someone falling off the roof.

The real fun begins when the first batter comes up. This part of the ritual is also clan specific. My family uses a three foot section of broom handle to bash the piñata to hell. We also insist on blindfolding the child in addition to spinning them around. Of course, the older the child, the faster the spinning and the more piñata movement. It is the job of the men on the roof to torture the children. If, for example, they are able to hit the kid in the head with the piñata, they get a rousing cheer.

There is an unwritten rule that any child who pissed off the rope handlers recently gets the piñata suspended directly above them with no chance of actually hitting it. The other great trick the Clan enjoys is lying to the hitter. What fun it is to get the kid to walk toward Grandma swinging that stick with gusto!


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Copyright, 1997 by Laura Jiménez.