México is home to many skilled artisans who continue to preserve traditions passed down for generations – some dating back to ancient MesoAmerica have seamlessly integrated into Mexican culture.

Walking in downtown Mérida, I came upon one of the most colorful handicrafts in México: piñata making! Piñatas are available in a variety of shapes and sizes and range from about 120 pesos (approx. $10) to thousands of pesos.

Wondering about the origins of this seemingly very Mexican tradition? I was surprised to learn that piñatas originated in “China”/marginalia/hs-country-profile-china, passed through Europe in the 14th century, and were finally brought to the New World in the 16th century by Spanish missionaries as a way attract converts to the Catholic faith. The original 16th century piñatas were star-shaped with seven points, each point representing a deadly sin. Taking a swift whack at these seven-pointed stars symbolized striking away evil and sin. The candy inside typified the rewards of accepting the Catholic faith by abandoning polytheistic beliefs. Today, these festive vessels are frequently at children’s birthday parties and simply make for a fun activity with a sweet ending.

The Quinceañera, another of México’s rich traditions, is a celebration that marks a girl’s transition from childhood to womanhood. Celebrated on her fifteenth birthday, quinceañera is believed to draw from both ancient Aztec rites of passage and European traditions. Following their conquest, the Spanish imposed many religious beliefs on the native people, one of which was that upon her fifteenth birthday a girl would be required to either devote her life to the Catholic church or to marry. Thankfully, girls today celebrating their fifteenth birthday are no longer required to make this life-altering decision.

The quinceañera ceremony is elaborate, and is primarily focused on the dress, which dictates everything from the color of the tablecloths to the icing on the multi-tiered cake. The current trends for dress colors are reds and purples and are usually corseted and meticulously decorated with rhinestones or sequins.