History of the Baile de los Cascarones
By Carla Aragón
The popularity of the “Cascarones” (The Spanish word for confetti filled eggshells) has exploded in the last couple years. In 2008 when I was writing “Dance of the Eggshells/ Baile de los Cascarones,” I discovered that cascarones were being sold at Walgreens. I was shocked to see them commercialized. Making cascarones was always a family affair. But I was pleased to know people were learning about the fun tradition. A few weeks later, my step daughter gave me an article from Southwest Airlines’ “Spirit Magazine” which listed 63 ways to get wild with a kid. Number 12 was to “crack cascarones.” Yup, word about the cascarones is getting around!
No one knows for sure where the cascarones came from, but there is a theory. Santa Fe’s La Sociedad Folklórica (The Folklore Society) has embraced the custom for decades. The members’ research shows that “some credit explorer Marco Polo with bringing them back to Italy from China in the early 14th century. The Chinese filled their eggs with perfume and scented powder. From Italy, the egg idea traveled to Austria, France and Spain.”
It’s believed the cascarón was brought to Mexico in the 1860s by Carlota, the wife of Emperor Maximilian I. From there, the decorated eggshells traveled north to the American Southwest (New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and California). The making and the breaking of the cascarones is associated with the carnaval that precedes Lent in Mexico. They have been used as courting rituals. But they are extremely popular during Easter time.
In Santa Fe, the tradition of the cascarón is tied to a dance, the Baile de los Cascarones. Since 1935, las socias (members of) de La Sociedad Folklórica have been sponsoring the dance which is held a week after Easter (after getting through Lent and Easter, it was time to really celebrate).
During Lent in the late 1800’s, northern New Mexico Catholics didn’t eat meat on Fridays—and in some cases, during the entire 40 days. Also, they were not permitted to dance. The women served up egg dishes as a substitute and saved the eggshells to decorate for the “Baile de los Cascarones.” The colorful cascarones are broken over the head of a dance partner with confetti spilling onto the hair… that’s how you invite someone to dance. The lady with the most confetti in her hair is thought to be the most popular partner of the night. Today women often ask the men to dance, too.
But that’s only half the fun! La Sociedad Folklórica encourages people to bring their entire family. It’s a great opportunity for the little ones to learn the traditional colonial dances like La Varsoviana, El Baile de la Cuna (The Cradle Dance), El Baile de los Celosos (The Dance of the Jealous Ones), El Baile del Paño (The Handkerchief Dance), and my favorite…El Baile de la Escoba (The Broom Dance).
Many of the dances are ice breakers which give everyone a chance to meet or mingle. For example, in the Baile de Los Compadres (Dance of the Good Friends), ties are randomly passed out to the men and aprons to the women. Once you get your tie or apron, you try to find the person who has the matching pattern or color. That person is not only your partner, but your comadre or compadre until next year’s dance.
If you go to the Baile de los Cascarones in Santa Fe or plan your own, I can guarantee you’ll have a greater appreciation for those cascarones being sold at local stores. In fact, you might want to try making them for yourself.
(Carla Aragon is the author of “Dance of the Eggshells/Baile de los Cascarones” published by UNM Press.)
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