Easter is almost here, and it has always been one of my favorite holidays because of its uniqueness in Mexican and Mexican-American culture. When I was a child I loved making and breaking the cascarones (dyed egg shells filled with confetti), and it was several years before I realized that this was not how other people across the United States celebrated Easter. When I learned that in most other parts of the country people dye the whole egg with the egg still in it and actually eat it afterwards, I thought it sounded kind of unappetizing. All those hands touching the eggs, eating an egg that’s been infused with artificial dyes and possibly sitting around for a long time… to each their own! When I was older and living in other parts of the country, it was always fun explaining the cascarones tradition to friends who had never heard of it. Common questions- don’t you waste a whole bunch of eggs doing that? What could you possibly make with that many eggs? Answer- you don’t waste any, you collect them all year! Us Tejanos like to plan ahead. But how do you crack them like that so the whole thing doesn’t break? Very carefully, that’s how! You become an expert egg cracker. And don’t you worry about getting salmonella? Well, we rinse them out pretty good. And how do you prevent the confetti from falling out? We glue tissue paper over the hole. Wow, doesn’t that take forever? Yes it does, but it’s fun! (If you ever have a similar conversation with an out-of-town friend, you can leave out the part about how now you can buy pre-made ones on the side of the road.)
The historical origin of cascarones is actually very interesting. Elaborately decorated eggs were a popular tradition in the Far East when Marco Polo made his famous voyage there in the 13th century. They were filled with scented powder and often given as gifts. When Marco Polo returned to Europe, these elaborately decorated eggs became all the rage in the royal courts, especially those of Italy and Spain. They were eventually brought to Mexico in the mid-1800’s by Emperor Maximilian’s wife Carlotta. In Mexico the tradition evolved, and they were filled with confetti instead of scented powder. Cracking one on someone’s head was thought to bring good luck.
If you want to try making some colorful and festive cascarones yourself this year, check out this site for instructions! Happy Easter from the McAllen Public Library! (Also, we will be closed Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.)