By Kelly McKinnon, KF9 Leon Nicaragua

¿Quién Causa Tanta Alegría?

¡La Concepción de María!

An exuberant young man, who I was to later understand is the Priest who hosts a Grand Purísima celebration (attended by former presidents, the bishop, the mayor and a five piece brass band), rattled off the schedule of events of the day’s celebration of La Purísima:

12:00p   Fireworks are lit all over the city to signal the beginning of the celebration.*

12:10p   Gigantona dance competition in the central plaza**

6:00p     Mass ends and more fireworks sound

6:20p     Fireworks end and the Gritando begins***

12:00a   More Fireworks

*Not the pretty kind, but the kind that sound like a .12 gauge

**Oh the things I haven’t written about!

***Translates as “Screaming” but actually refers to the call for gifts from houses, either a song or a sonorous reciting of “¿Quíen cause tanta alegria?”

On December 6th Fundación León 2000 celebrated La Purísima. Since my arrival I have been hearing about La Purísima. What I had been able to gather about La Purísima before this week, without doing any research because it felt like cheating, was that it’s like Halloween and it’s the celebration of The Virgin Mary/ The Immaculate Conception. After witnessing the celebration of La Purísima at Fundación León, I had only been able to gleen that singing was involved and, perhaps, gifts of Tupperware filled with matches and candy. I left the party, sent home with a garbage bag filled with four large Tupperwares and one bucket, all full of matches and candy.

Tupperware Full of Candy!

Sandra, Kiva Coordinator for Fundación León 2000 and my main source of information, had explained to me that gifts of useful items are given by individuals or households that are able to give, and they do so in the name of The Virgin. And the people need many things. “Ooooooohhh!” I say. “So I can give out the Tupperwares from the Fundación León 2000 party?” I say. Well, yes. But the gifts are given in the name of The Virgin and are supposed to come from here, [Sandra taps her heart].

On December 7th, the day of peak celebration, I had two invitations.

The first celebration I attended required that I wade through streams of people that fit no discernible demographic other than it was a stream of people on a mission. My destination was a freshly painted colonial house with a surge of people at the sidewalk-to-roof wrought iron windows.  I waited for the crowd to ebb and made a move for the door. Once safely within I was escorted to a majestic vignette of The Virgin Mary centered at the floor-to ceiling wrought iron window (the five piece brass band was framed at the other window). Hands reached through the wrought iron to receive the candies, toys, pens, cookies, and bags of rice. When we weren’t standing at the window voices urged us back with calls of ¿Quíen causa tanta alegría?

I was late for my second invitation. I said my goodbyes and my thank yous and was again filled with gifts and asked to stay a bit longer. The hospitality of the household was unrivaled: I will never again let anyone leave my household without sending them away with a package tied up in a plastic bag.

The directions to Maira’s house are: a block above the Tamarindon Tree, the house that has a little tree in front and is green con crema. I was never going to find it.

After asking at four houses (In which, I later learned, lived two of Maira’s cousins) I zeroed in on the correct green con crema house with a little tree. Maira was surprised to see me, she never thought I would find it.

La Purísima in Maira’s neighborhood felt less fervent, more communal (Like trick-or-treating becomes the further one gets from the houses that give out king size Snickers). There were little altars everywhere. Small statues of The Virgin adorned with beautiful fabrics and strings of lights and candles and flowers cut from nearby bushes.

Maira worried about her daughter being out too late, so we went around the block gritando at the houses that still had their altars illuminated. Maira’s calls of ¿Quíen Causa Tanta Alegría? brought people to the door. I was a bit sheepish ‘gritando’ with my 40 year old coworker, the most I could muster with any kind of conviction was the response ¡Qué Viva! Maira knew everyone’s name and narrated in which houses live her relatives. We returned home with our haul of candy. The family started to appear, a two year old was placed in my lap, I received a blue bracelet from a niece and was shown the photo of a grandchild who recently died of encephalitis. Maira says she was three and a little angel.

Maira’s husband sits with me in plastic chairs under the street lamps outside where the air is fresher.

‘So what do you think of all of this?’ he puts the question to me with open hands and a gesture that spans the events of the night. ‘You know we are criticized for this tradition? Because people say it’s idolatry. But we aren’t celebrating a statue. We are celebrating La Concepción de María. And it hasn’t always been about getting stuff from people. It started as just singing.’

December 8th is the Catholic celebration of the Immaculate Conception or La Purísima, it is a big celebration here in Nicaragua. Roman Catholicism came to Nicaragua in the 16th century. And now about 60% of the population identifies as Catholic.  I am told that each city celebrates a little differently; the city of León because of its colonial history has particularly festive traditions that span for seven days prior. On the eighth most people head to the beach.

Kelly is working with Fundacion Leon 2000 in Leon, Nicaragua and is now better prepared for La Purisima next year. Are you?!

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