Pinatas originated in... China!
Or at least that's the theory that I find most plausible.
There are reports that date back to 13th century China where people filled paper dolls with seeds and then smashed them apart at lively parties. The paper scraps were gathered and set alight, and the ashes kept as good luck!
How did the Pinata get to Mexico?
It made several stops: First Italy, then Spain, and finally on to Mexico.
Italian explorer Marco Polo is the man we can thank for bringing the pinata to Europe.
He witnessed the Chinese celebrations and brought the idea back to the renaissance courts of Italy.
Instead of paper dolls, they used clay pots. And instead of seeds, the pinata was filled with expensive jewels.
The Italians had a version they used in public squares during Carnival too: The pot was filled with sweets - and the partygoers all took turns trying to smash the pinata and release all the goodies within.
The custom didn't change much between Italy and Spain, and it was Spanish Christian missionaries that brought the party game to Mexico, using it as a tool for converting people!
The reason Pinatas caught on so well in Mexico was because they already had a similar tradition that was practiced in honour of one of their gods, and that's possibly why the tradition has survived to become a Cinco de Mayo trademark as well as a birthday party favorite.