Festive cascarones a NM tradition

These eggs are filled with confetti and are part of the cascarones tradition. (Elaine D. Briseño/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Being a New Mexican at Easter time might translate into a scalp full of confetti.

The Easter season across the nation brings religious devotion, the hunt for colored eggs, family gatherings and good food, but there’s another tradition New Mexicans have embraced since the 1800s.

A dozen cascarones peek out of an egg carton. The eggs are filled with confetti and broken over a person’s head in celebration of the end of Lent.

As New Mexican families sit down to decorate hard-boiled eggs for the big hunt on Easter Sunday, they practice another tradition. They paint and decorate empty eggshells, refill them with confetti and seal them up with tape or tissue paper. The confetti-filled eggs are known as cascarones, and come Easter Sunday or soon after, those eggs get cracked over the heads of some suspecting, or maybe not so suspecting, family members and friends. The word “cascaron” comes from the Spanish word “cascara,” which means eggshell.

“People will start saving cascarones (eggshells) early before the Lenten season,” said retired professor Juan López. “Then the family will gather a week or two before Easter with the kids to decorate them.”

Elaborate cascarones are for sale at the annual Baile de los Cascarones event in Santa Fe. The tradition spread to Mexico in the 1800s from Europe and worked its way north. (Source Courtesy of Carla Aragón)

Lopez grew up in the former mining town of Santa Rita, N.M., near Silver City. His family practiced the tradition when he was child growing up there. The mine’s expansion gobbled up the small town but not his family tradition. Lopez has passed it on to his own children and grandchildren and even wrote and self-published a book about the tradition.

The idea of emptying an egg and filling it with something else started in Asia, where the eggs were filled with perfumed powder. Explorer Marco Polo took the custom to Italy. The tradition eventually spread to Spain and finally Mexico in the mid-1800s.

Eight-year-old Carla Aragón sells cascarones at the annual Baile de los Cascarones in Santa Fe. (Source Courtesy of Carla Aragón)

The practice came to New Mexico with travelers using El Camino Real Historic Trail, according former TV reporter Carla Aragón, who wrote a children’s book on the subject in 2010 called “Dance of the Eggshells (Baile de los Cascarones).” Aragón, who is from Santa Fe, celebrated the tradition with her family as a child but their celebration had an added component – a dance.

“In the old days, people would not eat meat for all of the Lenten season,” she said. “What they did to get protein was make a lot of egg dishes. They also couldn’t dance (during Lent).”

A week after Lent ended, residents of northern New Mexico would get together to celebrate and take joy in being allowed to once again dance. She said the dances would bring people from the community, some of whom lived in far rural areas, together. The La Sociedad Folklórica group in Santa Fe has tried to preserve this tradition by hosting an annual Baile de los Cascarones. For the event, the group makes cascarones that are sold during the dance.

“If you want to ask someone to dance, you break an egg on their head,” Aragón said. “It’s said the people with the most confetti in their hair are the most popular dancers.”

Aragón’s mother, Socorro Aragón, is one of the Sociedad’s longest-term members. Socorro Aragón said her group preserves New Mexican traditions, including cascarones and the dance. She said the dances attract between 200 and 300 people. This year’s dance will be held April 7 at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. Tickets for the event are $10 for adults, $15 per couple, $2 for children ages 6 to 17 and those younger are free. The dance will be held from 7 to 11 p.m. The celebration will feature traditional couple dances.

“We’ve (La Sociedad) bee doing the dances for over 80 years,” Socorro Aragón said. “The tradition is that all the families go to the dance and see their friends. During the Lenten season they wouldn’t necessarily do that.”

How to make cascarones
• Tap the bottom of the egg and peel away a hole about a half-inch wide.
• Dump out the eggs into a bowl for later use.• Rinse out the eggshells and let them dry upside down in the carton.

• When completely dry, dye or decorate the eggs. A normal egg-coloring kit can be used for this task.

• Let dry once again and then fill with confetti, which can be purchased or made.

• Apply glue around the hole and apply a small square of tissue paper to seal the confetti inside.

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