Those of you who attended the Yaqui Easter ceremonies last weekend doubtless had the opportunity to buy cascarones — decorated egg shells filled with confetti. (The singular is cascarón.) Cascarones are used all over the Mexican world, adding to the excitement of parties by being broken over people’s heads. Traditionally associated with Carnival and Easter, they can appear at any time of the year.
Cascarones have not always been filled with confetti. In the 19th century, tiny candies and perfume were also used. And in the 1970s and 80s, Yaquis filled cascarones with computer punch-outs!
The earliest reference to cascarones I am aware of describes their use at a Carnival ball in Monterrey, California, in 1829. At that time, and until recently, they were used by young adults as a courtship activity at dances. Over the past decades, their primary users seem to have become children.
Cascarones can take many forms, from simple, decorated eggshells to eggshells mounted on newspaper cones, to actual figurines. The newspaper cones seem to have been a Tucson invention; they allow a greater flexibility in their creation and decoration, as well as providing a handle to hold while blonking one’s chosen victim over the head.
Cascarones can range from simple decorated eggs to complex works of art. Some makers concentrate on wrapping the cone with fringes of colored crepe paper, with streamers attached to the end. Others take more pains with the decoration of the egg shell, painting flowers, geometric designs, or faces on it. Still others dress the paper cones in full costumes. My suspicion is that many of these more elaborate cascarones end up as wall decorations rather then being broken over heads.
Which brings us to the part of our story that fascinates me. As things, stories, and ideas move from culture to culture, they often change and adapt themselves to their new context. I know families, many of them recent arrivals in Tucson, who use the more elaborate cascarones as wall decorations, allowing them to make a statement concerning their new home and their appreciation of it. This new use has in turn affected the cascarones.
One cascarón maker I know made special cascarones for her daughters’ friends’ dorm rooms at the University of Arizona. They are painted blue and red, with the letter “A” on them. They could not possibly be broken over someone’s head, because they are made from the plastic, egg-shaped containers for L’EGGS stockings and pantyhose!
For more information on cascarones in the Santa Cruz Valley, see Chapter 3,”Cascarones: A Florescent Folk Art Form in Southern Arizona,” pp. 55-66 in my book A Shared Space: Folklife in the Arizona-Sonora Borderlands. Logan: Utah State University Press, 1995.