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Cascarónes are eggshells which have been emptied and refilled with confetti, then decorated with paints and colored paper. In the 19th and early 20th Centuries, they were a feature of dances, and young men and women would buy them to break over each others' heads in a kind of playful courtship ritual. At one point, their use was associated with Carnival - that period of feasting and partying just before the beginning of Lent. Over the past century, they have become a children's game - kids will make or buy them and then hit each other over the head with them, thus adding to the excitement of any kind of party.
Over most of the Mexican world, cascarónes are simply filled, painted eggshells. Here in Southern Arizona, however, they have developed into a rather more complex form of folk art. The eggshell is placed on the end of a long paper cone, which in its turn is decorated with cut, fringed papel de china. There are two main trends of cascarón making. one concentrates on the paper cone and its decoration, adding ribbons, tinsel and even feathers to the cut tissue paper. The other concentrates on the egg itself, often turning it into a head or even a tiny animal. A few cascarón makers have gone even farther, creating actual figurines with an egg as a head. These lovely confections seem to be intended more as gifts that as objects for kids to break.
As a matter of fact, not all the cascarónes that are purchased in Tucson are broken. Cascarónes are sold at a number of public occasions and festivals - one woman was even seen selling "graduate" cascarónes, complete with black robes and mortarboards, at High School graduations! And some at least of the people who buy them are Anglo American adults, who use them for decorations in their homes. These happy creations, made in order to be broken, seem to have changed in their function and meaning as they moved across cultural lines. From a children's game they have become, for some people, pieces of folk art to be collected and displayed - symbolizing in their own way this multicultural place that is southern Arizona.