Thursday, January 31, 2013

Singing for The Virgin

An Altar to the Virgin Mary, built outside this home 

Hundreds of people were dashing about in the street to get in lines. Statues of the Virgin were in the front rooms and patios of many houses surrounded by caroling children.December 7th in the Catholic calendar marks the Conception of the Virgin Mary. In Nicaragua, homes open their doors to waves of singing families to honor the Holy Mother. If you’ve wanted to get a good example of how much Roman Catholics from Latin America venerate Mary, you’ll never find a bigger show than Purisima night.

Last year, I was living in a very Protestant town at the time of the celebrations, so I never really got the chance to see how big a party it was.

Kathya and her family went all out in
getting gifts to give away to the carolers.
Preparations began months in advance. My fiancé’s family home is one of about a dozen houses that host the events in her tiny Carazo town. Everywhere up until the date, her parents were buying huge amounts of small plastic containers and filling them with candy and small toys. An entire room in her house was being occupied by the volume of Purisima gifts.
The days before had little celebrations in some houses. One night we went to one and a traditional Fireworks Bull was lit. The game is that someone runs with the bull trying to get sparks on the others. Children, mainly boys, run up to try and get as close as possible before having to run away from the rampaging fire beast.

Finally the day came. My mom flew in from home the night before, so she was able to share in the big event. We spent the morning preparing the last bits of the decorations and adorning the Virgin’s altar in patio. By night fall, the children had come in from all over and outside of the town. They would come in in groups to sing in front of the statue and afterwards they would shout, “Quien causa tanta alegría?” To which all would yell, including my mom, “La Concepción de María!”

I thought it was odd that people were receiving tons of cups, so I asked Kathya why they use them. She explained that the tradition began in the city of Leon. There, the people used to hand out gifts in tiny colored baskets. Some places still hold onto this basket tradition.

“We buy the cups because it’s more economic.” Kathya said. “They are also very useful in the house. The people really like them.”

Finally, the night won over the festive singing and the people migrated back to their homes. I’ve heard a lot of volunteers refer to Purissima as the combination of Halloween and Christmas.
Personally, I saw something that deserves to be in a category on its own. It was much more about religion than Halloween and very ritualistic compared Christmas. Purisima is a purely Nica celebration, and not one to be missed.