A spectacular event happens at the start of carnival in San Miguel de Allende. Starting on the Sunday before Mardi Gras, the street vendors sell hand-made puppets with painted faces, brightly colored garments with trimmings such as tequila bottles, cans of cerveza Modelo, balloons, decorative parasols, and assorted accessories.
These are highly customized and charming clowns on sticks whose smiling faces and dangling limbs bounce gaily with once in the hands of passersby. The vendors also sell colorful flowers, some with confetti eggs in the center, and manually crafted masks with sequins and sparkling glitter.
The most popular items are the cascarones, or painted eggs, which are sold by the bagful (10 for 5 pesos) – these are regular egg shells with the yolk and whites removed and filled with papelitos (confetti). The openings are sealed with tissue paper and glue.
Earlier in the day, Amy and I saw an old woman on our street in Colonia Allende selling these funny eggs, and not knowing they were for carnaval we assumed they were regular eggs, but the bright yellow tissue paper from a distance made them look like deviled eggs. We thought this odd (since we didn’t think these were popular – if at all known – in Mexico) and unsanitary given the hot mid-day sun pounding down on the woman’s basket. “I have a hankering for deviled eggs” was the running joke for us until we learned their true purpose.
These eggs, we later found out, are happy hand grenades which are smashed over the head of an unsuspecting victim. The visual effect is enhanced when the confetti filling is sometimes combined with glitter and/or flour – this helps produce a puffy “explosion.”
Just after sunset is when the real pre-Lenten pandemonium begins. All around the jardín the children run around with bags of these eggs and launch them on their friends, foes and strangers alike. For the adolescents, the cascarones seemed an especially fun form of flirtation during the evening paseo.
Paul and I enjoyed the magical mayhem for nearly two hours as the Mexican niños zipped and zig-zagged with projectile eggs flying every which way. All around were amused faces and tousled heads covered in paper confetti, glitter and white powder.
The scene was jovial despite the chaos, with parents laughing good naturedly with their children. Older kids waited patiently as their younger siblings were not as quick to the draw, and even parents were not spared the ovule projectiles. I even had one smashed on my head, a smiling young Mexican beaming back my gringo surprise as he zoomed past.
The entire plaza was littered with smashed eggshells and colorful bits and pieces. Even some resourceful youngsters reloaded partially broken eggs for additional attacks.
Not once did we hear a child cry or behave malevolently. The entire evening was awash in good sprit and great fun – as always, the Mexicans finding a fantastic (and unique) way to celebrate life, this time the approaching carnaval.