I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I am blessed to have been raised in a Catholic home with parents who really worked to make the faith come alive for me and my siblings, especially during the liturgical seasons of Advent and Lent. One of my favorite traditions was our Easter pinata. It’s possible that part of the motivation for doing a pinata instead of Easter baskets was to save a little money and simplify a bit, since I’m one of seven children. But, our pinata was not just any old pinata. It was a Lamb of God pinata. And we got to help make it. My parents decided to make it a lamb because of the rich symbolism. Now, granted, our lambs were never without blemish, like the true Lamb of God, but still represented him despite their occasional cosmetic issues. So we would make the lamb, and then on Easter, after Mass, we would hang it from the beam in our kitchen and slay it with a wooden sword. This may sound a bit morbid, but it’s easy for a kid to grasp. There’s really no “dressing up” the reality of Christ’s Passion and death. This tradition gets across the point that we did participate in the death of the Lamb, by our sins. It wasn’t just an incident in history perpetrated by the Jews and Roman soldiers of the time. The Lamb died for each of us, and we received something exceedingly good. Did I make the spiritual connection when I was a child? Probably not right away. But the seeds were planted. Not to mention, the times spent making the pinatas over the years was truly quality time, and I remember talking about the “why” of the pinata many times, since we were the only ones I knew who did this at Easter time. We have done Easter baskets some years with our own kids, but I have to admit that I much prefer the pinata. We do usually have one Easter basket with a little bit of chocolate (who wants to wait for chocolate?) and a few items that would break in the pinata. I’ve had a few requests for the “how-to’s” of making this work of art, so without further ado, here’s the list of materials and the steps required. The photos are from last year.
You will need:
*A bag of assorted balloons, containing both the long, narrow ones and the round. (Not the really skinny ones that are used to make balloon animals.)
*9×13 (or larger) pan
*A large bag of cotton balls
*construction paper (optional)
*black paint or a black Sharpie
You’ll need to blow up several long balloons for the body. The number you’ll need will depend on how big you want the pinata, and how big you can blow the balloons up. Our balloons were rather small last year so we ended up using five long balloons. Make sure you blow them up to the same size, or your lamb will be quite lopsided. Then you need one round balloon for the head. Do blow up extras because they sometimes pop. Plus, the little ones enjoy playing with the balloons and that makes it easier to concentrate on the job at hand! Rip a bunch of newspaper strips, at least 2 inches in width. Mine were wider, but it’s not critical. Except that it takes less time to cover the balloons with wider strips.
Make a paste of flour and water in your pan. It should be thin enough to spread along the newspaper strips without clumping, but not too thin that it soaks them and rips them.
Spread newspaper on your work surface. Putting the balloons together is the hardest part. It’s easiest to have one person hold them together while the other wraps a few paste-dampened newspaper strips around to hold them together. I sometimes use a piece of newspaper that is just a little shorter than the body and wrap that around the body, wetting it with the paste and then adding layers of the strips. This helps keep the balloons together more quickly, especially is you don’t have an extra set of hands. Basically, the long balloons are stacked to form the body of a lamb. We put 2 balloons on the bottom, one on top of those in the middle, and two on top of that one. It should be a little wider on the bottom, so for the bottom we used the two balloons which were just a touch bigger than the others. The round balloon can be attached by tying the tied end to the tied ends of the long ones, or you can use tape or string for this.
Completely cover the pinata by putting the newspaper strips every which way until you have several layers. Make sure you don’t do too many if you only have small children, or they won’t be able to break it. I don’t have to worry about that any more with my crew, because this is one of those traditions that even the big kids still want to participate in. The head is the tricky part. In order to keep the head upright, you have to start a strip at the top of the head and stretch it to the back, anchoring it with a cross strip on the back. After a few of these it will stay up. When you have a layer covering the head, wad up a small piece of newspaper to make a bump for the nose. Put it where the nose would be and cover with more strips to stick it on.
Once the pinata is covered with a few layers, set it in a warm place to dry. Last year I put it out on our deck on a little table. Our dog looked out the window and thought it was another animal, and he wouldn’t stop barking. Poor guy – I think he was traumatized!
Oops, forgot the ears. You can fold pieces of newspaper to make ears and glue them on with paste and strips, or I have sometimes used pink construction paper, which will then be covered on the outside with cotton balls. When the pinata is dry, cover the entire thing with cotton balls, using regular white school glue. If you want to go for a more realistic look, stretch the cotton balls so they are fluffier, and not round, and then stick them on. The nose can be painted with black paint or colored with a black Sharpie before you glue cotton balls around it. I sometimes draw black eyes with a Sharpie as well, but honestly, you can barely see them after all the cotton is glued on anyway. Before you glue all the cotton on top of the lamb’s back, use a sharp knife to cut a slit about 6 inches long (from the direction of the head towards the tail end) The slit should be in the middle of the back, though, not too close to either end. At each end of this slit, make a small cut sideways so that you can fold the opening enough to get the treats in. You can disguise this later with more cotton, so keep the cotton and glue on hand for later. Part of the mystery as a kid was not knowing how those treats got in there.
And now for a slideshow of last year’s “slaying of the lamb.”