“Tu gloria, tu gloria, gozoso este día, O dulce María, publica mi voz, O dulce María, publica mi voz…” These are the words to a popular chorus dedicated to Mary that is heard all over Nicaragua during the days leading up to December 8th. The flutes at the CCBN, the choir, the recordings at the mall, people humming on the street – pretty much everyone has the catchy tunes stuck in their heads. And not an hour goes by (not even the early morning hours) when you don’t hear a loud boom coming from a firecracker. All this bulla (or joyful racket) is setting up for what is known in the Catholic world as the feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception (her conception, not Jesus’), or Purísima as it is known here. To celebrate, many people construct altars in their houses to honor Mary. Then, on the evening of December 7th, old and young alike go out for the Gritería (basically, this translates to “Yelling Fest”). Groups of friends and family go door-to-door and sing one (or sometimes several) of the traditional Marian tunes after beginning with the greeting “¿Quien causa tanta alegría?” (“Who causes such joy?”) and response “¡La concepción de María!” (“Mary’s conception!”) Then, the members of the household give out sweets, fruit, or other goodies to the singers. It’s a lot like Halloween in the U.S. with a few tweaks.
For many, the celebration is an excuse to go out and make merry, but for others this celebration is deeply spiritual. Many are giving thanks to Mary for answered prayer. For example, the Arts Coordinator at the CCBN told me about some of the blessings he has received from the Virgin. Suffering from cancer and struggling through chemo a few years ago, he woke up one night crying out to the Virgin, asking her to end his pain. Soon after, his doctors told him he could stop chemo, and today he is cancer-free. He gives thanks to the Virgin every year with his family, usually waiting until the popular celebrations have subsided to honor her in a more personal way. I, too, joined in the festivities Monday evening, finally able to sing along after having learned the songs with the choir. I was struck by the joy and diversity that marks this yearly celebration as one of the most important on the Nicaraguan calendar.