This week, Nicaraguans celebrate La Purísima, a novena—or nine-day prayer—in honor of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, the country’s patron saint. The actual celebrations resemble a cross between Christmas, Halloween, and Carnival.
Today, December 7, is known as La Gritería, or “the shouting,” which is as raucous as it sounds. “¿Quién causa tanta alegría?” or “What causes so much joy?” people shout in the streets, with the refrain being “la Concepción de María” or “the Conception of Mary!” Between December 7th and 8th, firecrackers explode in the streets at all hours.
Traditions vary by city, but typically Nicaraguans construct an altar in their homes and host friends, family, and neighbors. Children go from altar to altar singing folk songs and asking, “¿Quién causa tanta alegría?” The homeowners repeat the refrain and hand out small gifts, usually food such as drinks and candy. The best treat of all—equivalent to receiving a king-size candy bar while trick-or-treating—is a nacatamal, a large tamale stuffed with an entire meal of pork, rice, potatoes, and more, that is wrapped and steamed in plantain leaves.
Leon celebrates with “La Gigantona,” a giant puppet that dances through the streets accompanied by drums and horns. Adapted from a Spanish tradition, La Gigantona pokes fun at the original Spanish colonizers. In Granada, locals place their altars on the street, instead of in their homes. La Purísima is also observed by the Nicaraguan diaspora, from Miami to Los Angeles, as a way to reconnect with their heritage.
At its heart, the celebration of La Purísima is about connecting with family, friends, and the wider community. It encourages immense generosity towards complete strangers in a way that has become difficult during the pandemic, but perseveres nonetheless.