Laura Schaefer has already warned her neighbors: It’s going to get messy.
What she plans to do on Easter Sunday will leave them picking tiny pieces of paper and eggshells from their children’s hair and clothes.
They may even find stray specks weeks later in places they didn’t expect: shoes, pockets, the corners of their yards.
That’s the nature of cascarones, confetti-filled eggs that children crack over one another’s heads, ideally to squeals and laughter. When they do it right, there is chasing and strategy, and everyone ends up the same: sweaty and covered in brightly colored flecks that capture the mood.
Schaefer grew up celebrating Easter with that Mexican tradition, and on Sunday, when her family gathers with a few neighbors on their Fairfax, Va., cul-de-sac, she plans to take five dozen cascarones with her.
That’s right, five dozen.
If you do the math, that means there will be 60 tiny vessels of mess. But the payoff, Schaefer has assured her neighbors, is this: “The kids always have so much fun.”
Many of us who live in the D.C. region started out somewhere else, either in a different state or country, which means that when we come here, we face a question: What do we bring with us?
Which recipes do we keep and cook every year? What music sparks nostalgia? Which traditions matter most to us?
My strongest Easter memories are not a taste. Or a smell. Or a sound.
They are a feel.
It is the prick of an eggshell against my palm after an egg landed perfectly against one of my relative’s scalps. It is the itch of paper sticking to me even after I thought I shook it all off.
Cascarones were always part of my Easters growing up in Texas. In San Antonio, the colorful eggs are sold in stores and on street corners. Some of my relatives still make them by hand.
Along the border, the eggs are so popular this time of year that U.S. Customs and Border Protection has limited travelers entering the country to 12 cascarones per person. The restriction is aimed at preventing the spread of disease-causing microbes that can be found in some eggs.
But here in the D.C. area, it would be easy to believe cascarones did not exist.
Mention them in conversations, and you are guaranteed to get blank stares. And while a few stores in the region sell them, usually in cartons labeled “confetti eggs,” you might not notice them if you don’t know what you’re looking at.
“Long shot: Looking to buy cascarones,” someone posted in a D.C. Reddit forum a few years ago. “Can anyone recommend where I can find some confetti eggs in the NoVa/D.C. area? . . . It would just be so wonderful to keep this family tradition alive, so any help is appreciated!”
The truth is, you may have to look a little harder in the D.C. region, but cascarones are here, and for those who have carried the tradition with them, they are revered.
Schaefer is now a 35-year-old mother of three, but she recalled an Easter when she was in college and brought friends home to Virginia with her. Among them was her future husband. None of them had heard of cascarones, and suddenly they were hunting for them in the front yard and chasing one another with them.
“They were so into it,” Schaefer recalled, laughing.
That year, her mother, Dina Barlow, made all of the cascarones by hand.
She does that every year now.
The five dozen that Schaefer will share with her neighbors Sunday were also made by her mother. She started working on them a few months ago.
Making cascarones is not a task born of whims. It requires planning. You have to crack the eggs so that only a quarter-size piece is taken off the top. The shells then have to be emptied, rinsed and left to dry. Only then are they decorated, filled with confetti (or glitter by people who don’t care whether others curse at them) and sealed with a small, circular piece of tissue paper.
“It’s so much work,” Schaefer said. “All these traditions are so time-consuming, but they are so special and worth it.”
Her oldest son, Landon, is 5 and has grown up with the tradition, and now her two youngest sons, 3-year-old twins Brady and Caleb, are finally old enough to enjoy it, too.
“I like to see that my grandkids are doing the same thing that I used to do,” Barlow said. “It still hasn’t lost the fun.”
Barlow, who is Mexican American and grew up in the Rio Grande Valley, said she doesn’t even know the origin of the tradition. (I told her that it had been traced to China). She knows only that her mother made cascarones, that she now does and hopes her two daughters eventually will, too.
“It’s like a thread,” she said. “You don’t want it to be cut off. I think it’s important that it connects us.”
On Sunday, she plans to take the cascarones from her home in Warrenton to her daughter’s house, where they will be hidden alongside plastic eggs filled with coins and candy.
Barlow said that when she learned that some of the neighborhood children would be joining the festivities, she worried that she might not have made enough cascarones.
But her daughter assured her, she said, that five dozen would make a plenty big mess.