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Holidays in Granada, Nicaragua

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bushamy13
12/16/2009 07:35 EST

Origins of La Purísima
One of the uniquely Nicaraguan customs of the Christmas season is the Purísima tradition. Celebrating the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, this annual celebration has taken hold in Nicaragua as in few other places in the world. In order to understand the happiness that is so prevalent during this celebration, some thought should be given to its origin. Though a good history of the Purísima tradition remains to be written, a few facts may shed some light on this celebration for the interested observer.
The cult of the worship of Mary, mother of Jesus, is a very old tradition in the Catholic Church. At least by the 6th century, the church fathers had made a conscious decision to publicly worship Mary. Done for a variety of reasons, the adoration of Mary in some ways resembled the worship of venerated goddesses in other religions of the Middle East.
As with other characteristics of the early church, the idea was to attract as many believers as possible, and so well-known, pre-existing symbols were incorporated into its rituals, rites, and customs. For example, the custom of building the basilica, or church on the eastern side of the town square, a custom commonly employed during the colonial era, was the practice as noted by the famous architect Vitrubius about the year 50 AD, before Christianity became widespread. Similarly, the use of processions and statues to publicly celebrate a deity was established in Roman culture before the advent of Christianity.
The history of the particular celebration of the conception of the mother of Jesus, Mary, —called the Purísima in Nicaragua (short for the "Purísima Concepción de María")— is rife with different versions, some believable, others less so. There is no one clear theory as to how it started or when, but some information is available. Apparently by at least the 18th century, some form of the Purísima was celebrated by Franciscans, perhaps first in Granada, perhaps first in León-El Viejo.
The Granada version is that the Purísima began to be worshipped because a statue of Mary was found floating in the waters of Lake Nicaragua. The statue had been in El Castillo on the San Juan River. During an attack by the English on the castle, a statue of Mary, in its case, was somehow tossed into the river, where it drifted upstream and across the lake to Granada. There it was found by women washing clothes on the shore on December 7, 1721. No matter that this was at a time after the War of the Spanish Succession had ended and some time before the War of Jenkin's Ear commenced. Somehow, the statue got to Granada where it is still worshipped today.
In León, according to ancient documents, La Purísima was thought to have begun at the beginnings of the 18th century by the San Franciscans. Monks of the San Francisco convent attracted children and believers with caramels and fruits to sing to the virgin. But eventually too many people came to the church and the monks suggested to the people to start celebrating the singings and prayers to the virgin inside their own homes. The tradition spread to Granada and Masaya, and then to the rest of Nicaragua.
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.

The Mary Season
Other elements of the tradition include building an altar of worship in the entrance to one's house and inviting guests to come, worship, and receive special Purísima foods and sweets, usually made from some form of sugar cane. For children, it is somewhat like the American custom of a Halloween without costumes, with children going from house to house, singing songs to Mary in order to obtain candy.
Another characteristic is the liberal (to some, extreme) use of fireworks and firecrackers, the unforgettable Nicaraguan "triquitraca". Probably a part of Spanish religious festivals since the invention of gunpowder, this presence of fireworks makes spending an evening in Managua on December 7th unforgettable. But without a doubt, a visitor or resident almost anywhere in any population center in Nicaragua will know he or she is in Nicaragua and nowhere else in the world.

La Gritería

Related to ‘La Purísima’, the other tradition, called ‘La Gritería, is more boisterous and more common. On December 7th at 6PM heard from different cathedrals and churches is “¿Quién causa tanta alegría?” (Who causes so much happiness?). The response from many people is ‘La Concepción de María’ (The conception of Mary). At that time, in cities and towns people start exploding fireworks and firecrackers. In Granada and the larger cities, it gets so noisy that many tourists might think that a war has just started in Nicaragua. Of course, this also happens Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

Mary is the reason for ‘La Gritería’. The virgin is thanked for the miracles. 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.

Christmas

Celebrating Christmas is a mixture of traditional Nicaraguan practices with other elements that have become Christmas icons all over the world. From the last days of November you can see how Christmas symbols take over houses, firms, streets, and many other places. Many families put a Christmas tree in their home decorated with lights and whatever is available. The doors of the home are left open to let bypassers and neighbors see their decorations.

Nativity sets ‘El Nacimiento’ are commonly placed in houses and churches, but also in the parks, or in receptions of commercial buildings. Some people leave the Nativity set without Baby Jesus’ image, Christmas day. Christmas is a family celebration in which many Nicaraguan families gather to enjoy a special dinner.

Santa Claus is a common figure but due to the poverty many families simply buy necessary clothes and shoes for their children as gifts. In other families, children are told to write a letter to Baby Jesus, writing all gifts or special wishes that they want. If there are gifts then they are opened at midnight, during Jesus’ Birthday.

As a general tradition, at midnight, gunpowder explosions are heard everywhere from fireworks and firecrackers. Like all countries, every family celebrates in their own manner within the same traditions. One interesting variation is the ‘Christmas Soup’ prepared mainly in the city of Bluefields: after the official mass in Vatican City, inhabitants of Bluefields invite everyone to enjoy their soups, celebrating Christmas in this way.

New Years Eve Day

New Years Day is a major holiday for the people of Nicaragua. As with all holidays, it is usually spent with the family but also a time to hang out with friends. An old tradition is to burn the ‘old year’. Some people construct a effigy dressed up with very old clothes and full of gun powder which they hang up outside the home and when the New Year comes, they burn it.

Often, the homes organize a party and they invite many friends. At midnight, in the same way they burned the ‘Old Year’ each family burns fireworks and firecrackers. Then they hug each other, go to dinner, and then begin the first party of the year! Even though many families celebrate New Years Eve at home, discotheques and other places also offer New Year Eve parties’.

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