We attended a friend’s birthday party over the weekend. The kids spotted it right away fluttering in the wind from a tree branch. A piñata.
My kids always get excited when we arrive at a celebration and they realize the piñata game will be one of the activities. We even added a cross shaped one as the entertainment at my littles First Communion celebration.
And I think it was one of the party games they missed the most during the last couple of years.
When I think about birthday parties from my childhood, the piñata game is at the top of my happy memories. Something about whacking cardboard with a stick and then scrambling on the ground to get some candy. Or whatever other goodies happen to be inside.
If you’re planning on playing the piñata game at your next party, there’s lots of ways to make it a success. Check out some of our favorite tips and tricks below.
Where Did the Piñata Game Come From?
Even though we normally think about the piñata originating in Mexico, it might have had origins in China. The original piñata was figures of animals covered with colorful papers and ribbons. They were filled with seeds (not nearly as much fun as candy) and hit with sticks until they broke open.
Around the 13th century, Marco Polo brought the piñata to Italy. It was called the “pignatta”, the Italian name for fragile pot. Which was eventually changed to piñata.
At some point, the piñata was imported to Spain and used to celebrate Lent. When Spain conquered South America, they discovered that the Incas had a similar party game tradition. It turns out that the piñata game was already popular around the world.
In their version, the piñata was a decorated clay pot covered in feathers. It was filled with treasures and broken as an offering to the God of War. I’m sure this made him happy.
Today, a piñata is a decorated figure of an animal, toy or other object. It is usually crafted from paper mache, although I’ve made them from recycled cardboard too.
Then, it’s suspended from a height and broken open by excited children. Traditionally, these children are blindfolded. But these days, I’ve seen more closing of the eyes than actual blindfolding. (Something about the blindfolding kids and giving them a stick.)
Indoors Versus Outdoors
The traditional hitting of the piñata game is definitely something that works better outdoors than indoors. You are whacking at something with a stick.
When setting up outdoors, look for a place with plenty of clearance for hitting. Also, check the ground and make sure that lots of little hands and feet will fit. A grassy area will provide a nice cushion when everyone dives in.
If held indoors, it’s best to use a pull string piñata (more about that version below). You will still need a larger space such as a gym or large indoor room. This gives the kids plenty of space to dive for the loot.
Be sure to also check the floor surface. Floors can be hard. And when the piñata is broken open and the candy flings everywhere, kids will be scrambling on the floor to grab it. So, a softer surface is better.
Different Types of Piñatas
There are lots of different types of piñatas to choose from. The traditional piñata design has seven points around a sphere. Each point represents one of the seven deadly sins – wrath, envy, gluttony, greed, sloth, pride and lust.
Or you can choose from a variety of figures. From animals to recognizable characters, there’s a piñata for every occasion. One of the most popular animals that I see is the donkey. But you can really find a piñata in any shape imaginable. It’s an easy way to coordinate with any party theme.
Another type of piñata is the pull string piñata. It is a great idea if you have younger kids at your party or have to be in a more enclosed space. (No one will be swinging a stick indoors.) Instead of hitting the piñata, the kids pull strings that are attached to a hidden door. Once discovered, the door will open and release the candy.
Best Piñata to Use
Since every event is different, it’s important to choose the best piñata for your guests. When deciding which one to use, consider the age of the guests, how many guests you have and the location of the piñata game.
The Pull String Piñata
Although it takes the fun of hitting the piñata out of the game, a pull string piñata can be a great solution for certain events. If you have younger guests or the piñata has to be located inside, this is the best kind of piñata to use.
It’s also a good option if you have a large number of guests. There are usually about 20 pull strings on this type of piñata. So everyone would have an opportunity to participate.
The Traditional Piñata
But if you have plenty of space and the guests are old enough to play the traditional piñata game, then choose a regular piñata.
An original complaint about the piñata game is that it took forever for the piñata to break. But these days, I’ve noticed that piñatas are sometimes made out of really flimsy cardboard. They break within a few swings of the bat. This means that with a bigger party, very few guests actually get to hit the piñata.
When choosing a piñata, check the quality of the cardboard. Although you don’t want the piñata made from thick corrugated cardboard, you also don’t want it to be too thin.
Also remember that you get what you pay for. Usually the more expensive piñatas are made from better quality materials and will take a bit longer to break open.
How Big of a Piñata Do I Need?
Like most things in life, size matters. And it’s pretty important when playing the piñata game. If your piñata is too small (this recently happened to us), there won’t be enough loot for all the kids to enjoy. It’s never good when kids end up with nothing and feeling left out of the party fun.
When choosing the piñata, keep in mind the number of guests and your budget. A 16 to 28 inch piñata can hold about 2 pounds of candy. This is about 100 pieces of candy or small toys. Use this size for about 8 to 10 children.
If you have more guests, choose a bigger piñata. You can purchase piñatas that measure up to 34 inches. They hold about 3 pounds of candy or 150 pieces of candy. This is a great size for 12 to 15 children.
What if I have more guests? If you’re hosting a bigger party, consider choosing a pull string piñata. Or maybe pick a different party game to play that let’s more people participate.
Another idea is to set up more than one piñata. Choose two smaller piñatas and have more than one game going at a time. Then all of the guests can participate and have fun.
Piñata Filler Ideas
A piñata is usually filled with an assortment of small candy and toys. Use the guide above to figure out how many pieces of candy or toys you will need.
There are some great piñata filler variety packs that you can purchase (affiliate). Having lots of different toys in one pack saves you time and money. Then, just mix in some candy and you’re all set.
You can also purchase a mix of candies to use. When choosing candy, pick pieces that are smaller and pre-packaged. Some ideas are Tootsie rolls, bubblegum pieces and Pez candies. (If you include Pez, it might be fun to give a dispenser as a party favor.)
Another idea is to choose prizes to match your party theme. For example, if you are hosting a rainbow themed party then select prizes that are different colors of the rainbow. Or if its a superhero party, all of your prizes can be based on one of the famous superheroes or give the kids inspiration for being superheroes themselves.
Some other piñata filler ideas that kids will love include: (affiliates)
- Mini dinosaurs
- Pop Bracelets
- Glow Sticks
- Squishy toys
- Pull back cars
- Ring Pops
- Bouncy Balls
- Snap Bracelets (rolled up)
- Lego Minifigures (not the actual Lego version, though)
- Mini Rubber Duckies
- Key Chains
- Puzzles (Mazes, Cubes)
- Mini Slinky
- Bath Bombs
Over the years, my kids favorites piñata fillers that they still talk about are Shopkin toys, Ring pops and flashlight key chains.
And remember. As long as it’s small enough to fit inside, then you can use it as a piñata filler. Just make sure it’s not too small to get lost in the chaos.
Blindfolds and Bats
If you are planning to play the traditional piñata game, you will need a blindfold for the players. You do not have to blindfold the players and some kids might refuse to participate in this game rule.
The benefit of using a blindfold is that the kids have more trouble locating the piñata. This makes it harder to hit and the game last longer (and more fun). I have seen kids just close their eyes, though.
The one thing not to use – an old silk hankie. When I was a kid, this one was a popular thing to use at parties. They always smelled funny, made me want to sneeze and I didn’t really want to participate in the game. Who knew where that hankie had been?
When it comes to sticks, the safest thing to probably use is a plastic whiffle ball bat (affiliate). Whatever stick that you choose, just make sure that its light enough for most kids to swing.
Should I Make my Own Piñata?
If you want a fun DIY project to make for your celebration, consider constructing your own piñata. I made this cross piñata for my littles First Communion and it was a really fun project. And I crafted these mini rainbow piñata favor boxes for last year’s beading fiesta.
The best part about making your own piñata is that you don’t need a lot of materials. Save some light cardboard from packaging boxes – such as cereal and cracker. And you will need lots of wide masking tape. You can cover your piñata with a variety of tissue paper or rolls of fringe paper. Check out some of my favorite DIY piñata projects here.
How to Play the Piñata Game
Although preparing the materials for the piñata game might seem a little complicated, setting up the game is actually pretty simple.
You Will Need:
Piñata filled with lots of treats
Place to hang with lots of clearance
Rope for hanging
Stick for hitting (see note above) (affiliate)
Blindfolds (optional) (affiliate)
Sheet to lay underneath (optional)
1. Before the party day, choose a place to hang the piñata from. Find a tree, swing set (without the swings attached) or other location with lots of clearance.
2. On party day, set up the piñata game. Hang it from the location with a sturdy rope. You don’t want it to fall down while the kids hit it. The piñata should be eye level to the average height person in attendance.
3. If desired, lay a sheet underneath the piñata. This will make gathering the candy and toys when the piñata breaks much easier.
4. When it’s time to play, gather the guests around the piñata. For safety and fairness, have them form a circle that’s a safe distance from the piñata. This way when someone is swinging it no one gets hurt.
A note about the circle… the last two piñata games that we have played, the kids stood in a line with the younger kids in the front. This is great in concept because the younger kids get to hit the piñata first. The problem is that as the game continues, they get shuffled to the back of the line. And a line isn’t the best or fair way for everyone to rush in to grab goodies when the piñata breaks.
A circle formation let’s everyone watch and participate in the game. And when the piñata breaks, no one feels like they can’t grab at least some goodies.
5. Time to hit the piñata. Start with the birthday child. Blindfold him (if desired) and give him the hitting stick. Spin him around two to three times (depending on age). Then, let him try to hit the piñata.
6. Continue around the circle, giving each child a chance to hit. When something comes out of the piñata, the players can dash to grab it.
7. After the piñata completely breaks open, let the kids run to grab goodies.
Don’t Forget the Treat Bags
When setting up your piñata game, one thing not to forget is the treat bags. A simple paper lunch sack will do. Or choose more decorative paper bags or plastic cello bags. Before you begin the piñata game, hand each child a bag. Be sure to write their name on it too so no one’s treats get mixed up.
Another fun idea is to set up a decorating station for guests to make a treat bag when they arrive at the party. Use white paper bags (they’re easier to decorate) (affiliate). Have them write their name, add stickers and draw on the bags with markers. Once complete, collect the bags to hand out right before the piñata game starts.
What To Do If the Piñata Won’t Break
Depending on the quality of the piñata, you may end up with one that’s harder to break. If this is the case or the kids start to get frustrated with the game, it might be time to break it yourself.
Try hitting the piñata in the spot where the opening is for filling. Usually this place is more vulnerable so it breaks open more easily.
If this doesn’t work, then cut a small hole (or two) in the bottom to add a break point. Then, continue playing. Eventually, with some strategic hits, the piñata should break open.
Keeping It Fair
Although life isn’t always fair, I try to make the parties I host as fair as possible. It’s not the place where I want to teach these life lessons.
It’s sad to think that guests might participate in a party game and end up with nothing. Especially when there are kids involved.
And one thing that I’ve learned about piñata games is if there aren’t a few guidelines for fair play, two or three kids always end up with all of the loot.
Before starting the game, consider setting up a few guidelines.
Make a limit to how much each child can collect. This could be a specific number of pieces or even a fraction of the bag. You could say that each player should have no more than half the bag filled.
Have extra treats in the back. Anticipate that some kids may end up with nothing at the end of the game. In a recent piñata game, the oldest three kids didn’t get any treats at all. They didn’t want to push the younger kids out of the way – which was very kind of them. But their sweet actions also resulted in some disappointment.
Instead of leaving the results to chance, have some extra candy or toys on hand. If a guest doesn’t receive much loot from the piñata, then invite them to choose from the extra. This way you can make sure that all of the guests get a treat to bring home.
Have a signal. Instead of all of the kids rushing to grab the treats the minute they fall out of the piñata, have a signal instead. Blow a whistle. Ring a bell. Something to avoid all of the kids rushing to get the candy at once.
Lay down a sheet. Before you start the game, lay down a sheet or drop cloth underneath. This will give the candy a place to land when it drops. If you are playing the game on a grassy area, it helps to locate the candy and toys. Many will blend in with the grass making it harder to see.
The sheet also helps with cleaning up. Picking pieces of paper and piñata cardboard out of the grass isn’t so much fun. Personal experience here. With a sheet, you just gather it up and shake all of the remnants into the trash.
Use as a Centerpiece
Whether you’re making or purchasing a piñata for your party, don’t just use it as a party game. You can also display it as a centerpiece or use it as a party decoration. Place it on the dessert table or a side bar. If the piñata matches your party theme, it will make a wonderful decoration before you start hitting it.
Where Can I Buy a Piñata From?
Piñatas can be purchased from most party stores. We love the variety of piñatas from Birthday in a Box. You can find one to match any party theme.
If you prefer a more handmade look and want to support a small business, then check some of our favorite shops of Etsy for handmade piñatas. (affiliates)
Or you can make your own piñata as a party craft. Check out some of our favorite DIY piñata designs here.
Planning on playing the piñata game at your next celebration, be sure to pin this post for later.
Looking for more party game ideas for your next celebration? Plan a favorite relay race or parachute game for your next party. Or get some ideas for outdoor games kids will love.
And if you have more ideas for making your piñata game a success, be sure to add them to the comments below. We’re always looking for ways to make our piñata games even more fun.