Easter eggs symbolize life, renewal and cartons of fun by the dozens. People have decorated, rolled, hidden, hunted, tapped and danced between eggs for centuries. Some cultures replaced the contents of their eggshells with powders, perfumes or confetti and cracked them on the heads of the unsuspecting. In Latin America, Cascarones confetti eggs have showered springtime celebrations since the Victorian Era.
The word cascaron derives from cascar, Spanish for shell. It specifically refers to festive eggshells that have been emptied, cleaned and decorated. They are then re-filled, most often with confetti, glitter or even toys. The opening is resealed, usually with colorful tissue paper.
These mini-pinatas are meticulously crafted by hand, stock piled and smashed by the hundreds of thousands in fiestas throughout Mexico and the Southwestern United States. Tradition says that getting hit by a cascaron will bring good luck. At the very least, it will bring fun and laughter.
This prize-winning photo was taken by Pedernales Electric Cooperative member JoAnn Beissner. In it, Carmen Citzler catches her Aunt Allison Fischer off guard with a cascaron confetti egg in an Easter celebration.
Many towns include cascarones confetti eggs in their Easter celebrations. But that’s just the beginning of the fun. They appear at weddings, dances, parties and celebrations of all types. In some towns they play a role in courtship with the tap of a cascaron being the first step to romance—or at least an invitation to dance.
According to Dale Hoyt Palfrey in Mexconnect, “The practice has long been favored among adolescents who still may be observed engaging in this innocent form of flirtation with members of the opposite sex during Sunday evening paseos around village plaza.”
In San Antonio, Texas the multi-day Fiesta San Antonio is a cascarones-filled smashathon. The long list of today’s fiesta celebrations and events began as a one-time parade in 1891 to honor the battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto.
As the legend goes, it was Empress Carlotta (originally Charlotte of Belgium) who first rolled cascarones into Mexico. Charlotte was cousin to both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. At 16, she married her second cousin, Archduke Maximilian of Austria. They spent several years in Italy. This is presumably where she was introduced to the tradition of filled eggshells.
Allegedly, Marco Polo brought filled eggshells to Italy from China. These eggs were filled with perfume or powders and given as a courtship gift. By other accounts, the eggs were tossed at the target of one’s affection, as a messy surprise. Charlotte and Maximilian lived a lavish lifestyle in Italy, where they amassed many treasures and trinkets.
In 1864, Mexican anarchists offered Maximilian the crown. Naively, he and his Empress Carlotta accepted their new position with grand hopes of helping the country. The ship was loaded with their creature comforts to begin a royal life in Mexico. Some of these decorative eggs presumably made the journey with them.
Soon after their arrival, they realized there was little support for them in Mexico. In an attempt to win favor from the locals, Maximilian and Carlotta held elaborate balls, banquets and regal events at Chapultepec Castle. It isn’t difficult to imagine that the tradition of filled eggs might have found a place in their celebrations. The festive eggs later changed to fit local customs and were given the name we know today.
Empress Carlotta ostensibly brought festive hollowed-out eggs with her when she came to Mexico in 1864. That might be true, but she might not have been the first.
According to the Encyclopedia of Latino Popular Culture by Cordelia Candelaria:
“Early wedding accounts in California describe a cascaron filled with cologne in 1826. Accounts describing fandango games and festivities in California also suggest cascarones were filled with flour, ashes, black paint, or cologne during he 1850s when mischievous girls cracked them over the heads of eligible men in attempts to get their attention. Cascaron balls were held in Monterey during he 1820s prior to Lent.”
The Los Angeles Star Newspaper published an article on January 4, 1855 in which cascarones are mentioned as part of the holiday festivities.
“In the city cascarones commanded a premium, and many were complimented with them as a finishing touch to their head dress.”
Were filled eggshells originally from China? According to Wikipedia, they also appeared in feudal Japan. Hollowed-out eggs (happo) were called Metsubushi, or eye closers. They were filled with mud, pepper, flour and dirt. The happo was broken and its contents released into the eyes of an opponent to cause temporary blindness.
We definitely prefer the cascarones. Whatever the actual journey of these festive eggs, we’re grateful they arrived in time for our spring time festivities.
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