Monday, December 08, 2008

The Christmas Season OR How my dog became a nervous wreck.

We were all awake at 5:30 this morning. Two very loud 'bombas' went off in what sounded like the next room. Bombas are fireworks... but usually do not have any visual display just a really big noise. They are routinely set off by families for pretty much any celebration... and firecrackers are every child's favourite toy it would seem. I would like to say that we are growing used to them... but frankly the loud ones still rattle my nerves a bit and cause the dog to shake violently and run to me like a baby to it's mother.

This time of year is particularly celebratory, as you might imagine, and they have Christian festivities leading up to the big day on the 25th almost every day it seems. They have some I've never heard of, and are very particular to Nicaragua... such as "La Purisima" which has been celebrated here for the last 8 or 9 days and reached its epoch yesterday. From an outsiders point of view, this celebration seems to consist of going to church a lot; parading a statue of the Virgin Mary through the streets pretty much constantly; and setting off 'bombas'.

Last night, as we came home from a brief visit out to Mango Rosa we found about 500 people blocking our driveway as they slowly wound their way through the streets following a statue of the 'Virgin' in a half ton truck and accompanied by one of the worst marching bands I think I have ever heard. We reversed direction and went over to El Pozo for a glass of wine!

Here is a thorough description of La Purisima and today's big celebration: "La Griteria".... which will have the entire town shouting at 6pm this evening apparently.

This description is lifted from the ViaNica website at:

La Purísima

During colonial times, the Spanish brought their religious catholic fervor to Nicaragua, which was embraced in an incredible way by the natives (obviously after being imposed), with a mystical character and intense piety. This is how the popular religious Nicaraguan festivities were born, and in December ‘La Purísima’ is celebrated, one of the most widespread celebrations.

Imagine ‘La Purísima’ like this: a richly decorated altar is placed in a corner of a family house, with a statue of the Virgin Mary‘s image. In front of this altar, a lot of chairs are arranged, that will be occupied by family members, friends, and neighbors invited by the house owners to celebrate its ‘Purísima’. Once all the guests arrive, the celebration starts with prayers to the virgin, but these are alternated with traditional songs. All the assistants accompany with whistles, tambourines and other instruments. While this takes place inside the house, outside some family members fire rockets and the so called ‘caraga cerrada’, (firecrackers) that contribute a lot to the boisterous celebration. Meanwhile the singings and prayers take place, the host distributes to his/her guests fruits, traditional sweets, caramels, traditional drinks, sugar-cane and many other gifts.

‘La Purísima’ is a celebration to the ‘purest conception of Virgin Mary’, taking place on December 8th, according to the catholic calendar. ‘La Purísima’ is a tradition celebrated in all parts of Nicaragua by thousands of Nicaraguan families. These celebrations take place at the end of November and during almost all of December.

‘Purísimas’ are made for devotion or for gratitude to miracles that persons attribute to Virgin Mary. The families, or a couple of members of a family, realize a "novenario" of prayers to the virgin lasting nine days. Sometimes, the first eight days the prayers are private, but the ninth one is celebrated as described previously, but every family puts a little of their own style. It is interesting how each family inherits the image of the virgin from their ancestors; some of these images have been in the same family over a century.

Nowadays, the ‘Purísimas’ are also celebrated by big enterprises and institutions, and even by Nicaraguans living abroad or by Nicaraguan embassies.
La Gritería

Directly related to ‘La Purísima’, this other tradition, called ‘La Gritería, is more boisterous and more massive.

At 6PM every December 7th, a common yell is heard in different cathedrals and churches: Quién causa tanta alegría? (Who causes so much happiness?). This is how another ancient tradition starts along with the massive response ‘La Concepción de María’ (Mary’s Conception).

At that time, in cities and towns people start exploding fireworks and firecrackers. In the biggest cities, it gets so noisy that any uninformed tourist might think that a war has just started in Nicaragua. At midnight, firecrackers explode once again (the same happens at 6AM and 12PM, but on a smaller scale).

During ‘La Gritería’ Virgen Mary is also venerated. It is a celebration used by people to thank the virgin for miracles and it takes place before the official day. Faithful people decorate altars in their houses in a place were it can be seen from the street. In some neighborhoods you can find more than three altars in just one block.

Then, at 6PM sharp, thousands of Nicaraguans go to the streets to ‘shout’ to the virgin (the word gritería could be translated as ‘shouting’), which means visiting each altar and singing to the virgin Maria. This is basically how it is done: people hang around in groups, stop at an altar, intone traditional songs (the same as in ‘La Purísima’), house owners give fruits, candies, toys, instruments to make noise, natural drinks, and other type of gifts; finally, they move on to another altar. House owners who have placed altars wait until another group comes to sing. This is how ‘La Gritería’ is celebrated, lasting until the house owners have no more gifts to give away or until streets have no more singers.

Not only Catholics and religious people participate in this tradition. It is interesting to hear how people who do not know the songs’ lyrics make up the whole song or just sing the end of each phrase. This is a good opportunity for poor people to collect items, and it is interesting to see how people from different social classes participate in ‘La Gritería’