In Nicaragua the end of the year is tied to a lot of traditional celebrations, some of them celebrated all over the world and others related to the Nicaraguan culture and history.
The last month of the year is full of parties, happiness, family traditions, and religion. Massive processions take place all over the country. An inevitable and popular aspect is the gunpowder used in fireworks and firecrackers that loudly accompany the Nicaraguan celebrations.
Read more to learn about big traditional celebrations happening in Nicaragua during the last month of the year.
During colonial times, the Spanish brought their religious catholic fervor to Nicaragua, which was embraced in an incredible way by the natives (obviously after being imposed), with a mystical character and intense piety. This is how the popular religious Nicaraguan festivities were born, and in December ‘La Purísima’ is celebrated, one of the most widespread celebrations.
Imagine ‘La Purísima’ like this: a richly decorated altar is placed in a corner of a family house, with a statue of the Virgin Mary‘s image. In front of this altar, a lot of chairs are arranged, that will be occupied by family members, friends, and neighbors invited by the house owners to celebrate its ‘Purísima’. Once all the guests arrive, the celebration starts with prayers to the virgin, but these are alternated with traditional songs. All the assistants accompany with whistles, tambourines and other instruments. While this takes place inside the house, outside some family members fire rockets and the so called ‘caraga cerrada’, (firecrackers) that contribute a lot to the boisterous celebration. Meanwhile the singings and prayers take place, the host distributes to his/her guests fruits, traditional sweets, caramels, traditional drinks, sugar-cane and many other gifts.
‘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.
Nowadays, the ‘Purísimas’ are also celebrated by big enterprises and institutions, and even by Nicaraguans living abroad or by Nicaraguan embassies.
Directly related to ‘La Purísima’, this other tradition, called ‘La Gritería, is more boisterous and more massive.
At 6PM every December 7th, a common yell is heard in different cathedrals and churches: Quién causa tanta alegría? (Who causes so much happiness?). This is how another ancient tradition starts along with the massive response ‘La Concepción de María’ (Mary’s Conception).
At that time, in cities and towns people start exploding fireworks and firecrackers. In the biggest cities, it gets so noisy that any uninformed tourist might think that a war has just started in Nicaragua. At midnight, firecrackers explode once again (the same happens at 6AM and 12PM, but on a smaller scale).
During ‘La Gritería’ Virgen Mary is also venerated. 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.
Then, at 6PM sharp, thousands of Nicaraguans go to the streets to ‘shout’ to the virgin (the word gritería could be translated as ‘shouting’), which means visiting each altar and singing to the virgin Maria. This is basically how it is done: people hang around in groups, stop at an altar, intone traditional songs (the same as in ‘La Purísima’), house owners give fruits, candies, toys, instruments to make noise, natural drinks, and other type of gifts; finally, they move on to another altar. House owners who have placed altars wait until another group comes to sing. This is how ‘La Gritería’ is celebrated, lasting until the house owners have no more gifts to give away or until streets have no more singers.
Not only Catholics and religious people participate in this tradition. It is interesting to hear how people who do not know the songs’ lyrics make up the whole song or just sing the end of each phrase. This is a good opportunity for poor people to collect items, and it is interesting to see how people from different social classes participate in ‘La Gritería’
Celebrating Christmas is a mixture of traditional Nicaraguan practices with other elements that have become Christmas icons all over the world.
Christmas has two main characters: one is Santa Clause or ‘Santa’ and the other is Baby Jesus. The climax of this celebration is midnight of December 24th.
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 well-known symbol in their living room: a pine tree (not a natural one due to the climate), decorated with light bulbs, colored spheres, bells and other types of decoration.
Another inevitable symbol is ‘El Nacimiento’ (‘Nativity sets’): small statuettes representing the moment of Jesus’ birth with Joseph, Virgin Mary, shepherds, and domestic animals. Nativity sets are placed in houses and churches, but also in the avenues and rotaries, or in receptions of commercial buildings. Some people leave the Nativity set without Baby Jesus’ image, which they place until the first hours of December 25th.
Christmas is a family celebration in which many Nicaraguan families gather to enjoy a special dinner. In some houses, children are sent to bed early because Santa’s myth is still maintained: this chubby, good old man bringing gifts to everyone. At midnight children are woken up so they can open up their gifts to see what Santa brought them.
In other families, children are told to write a letter to Baby Jesus, writing all gifts or special wishes that they want. These letters are used as a shopping guide for their parents. Gifts are also opened at midnight, during Jesus’ Birthday.
As a general tradition, at midnight, gunpowder explosions are heard everywhere from fireworks and firecrackers. The ‘Christmas Hug’ is also another general tradition. Family members, friends and neighbors hug each other as a sign of reconciliation.
During Christmas Eve appetizers are served, but the official dinner is not served until midnight. Before the dinner a toast is made.
Obviously, there will be small variations in every family within this same tradition. An interesting detail 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 Year is always received in Nicaragua with tradition and joy. It is a family moment, but also a time to hang out with friends.
An old tradition is to burn the ‘old year’. Some people construct a man dressed up with very old clothes and full of gun powder which they hang up in streets and when New Year has come, they burn it.
A special dinner is organized, just like during Christmas, and served at midnight, in honor to New Year’s first hours. Usually, every house organizes a party to which 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 to the party, the first one of the year!
Even though many families celebrated New Year at home, discotheques and other places also offer ‘New Year Parties’.
Many religious celebrations also take place during the last month of the year.
‘Lavada de la Plata’ (Cleaning the silverware): One of the most popular celebrations takes place in the town of ‘El Viejo’ in Chinandega. During this celebration, on December 6th, thousands of Nicaraguans and people from neighboring countries come to visit the basilica of ‘El Viejo’. After the mass at 9AM, the image of the Virgin, is taken down from its thrown in order to wash silver pieces (plates, cups, coins, etc) that form the Virgin’s treasure. These pieces have been given to the Virgin by many believers throughout centuries. This is done in Nicaragua since the first colonial years.
A group of ladies together with the priest washes the silverware, while attendants pray or just observe this ritual that represents the cleanliness of the spirit’s impurities.
Procession of the Virgin: Another more widespread tradition is the procession of the Virgin, realized by diverse churches in cities and towns of Nicaragua. In each of these churches the image of the Virgin is lowered solemnly, which is taken through neighborhoods in a multitudinous procession. This is done during nine days, generally ending on December 8, the day of the Virgin.
Las Posadas: In Masaya, Granada and other towns people celebrate the ‘Posadas’. From some churches, the priest and other believers accompany disguised children who represent Joseph, Mary and some shepherds. They go from door to door and sing popular folk songs asking for a place because ‘Mary is going to give birth’, and from inside the house the children are answered with popular folk songs denying them the entry, as it happened in Bethlehem according to the Bible. Finally, a door opens and Holly Family may enter. This occurs during nine days.
Shepherdesses: Another popular celebration in Masaya is the one called ‘Pastorcillas’ (Shepherdesses), taking place on December 20th. Here a couple of children dressed as Mary and Joseph walk in streets followed by small girls (between 5 and 10 years old) dressed up as Biblical shepherdesses.
Regional celebrations: In other parts of Nicaragua, the end of the year coincides with their regional celebrations called ‘Fiestas Patronales’. For example, in Catarina, Masaya, they celebrate Saint Sylvester parties. During this party, there is a procession behind the image of the Saint, who covers the whole village, accompanied by music and fireworks.
Traditional religious celebrations were brought to Nicaragua by Spanish colonizers. Then, they were adapted and modified in the so called ‘mestizaje’ (mixture of cultures). Here we present some background of these celebrations.
In the year 1562, a Spaniard who was traveling to Peru was forced to remain for certain period in the port of The Realejo, Nicaragua, because of a tropical thunderstorm. He moved to the nearest village of ‘El Viejo’ to wait for the storm to calm down. In addition to his baggage, he was carrying a beautiful image of Virgin Mary. He placed the image in the local basilica. The presence of the image was known rapidly in the region and many Indians and mestizos traveled from far away just to see, pray and venerate the image.
The virgin was very popular, so much, that when the owner decided that it was the moment to leave and to take his virgin, many people went to dismiss her with sadness to the port. A new thunderstorm provoked the nobleman to return to ‘El Viejo’. This was much celebrated by the settlers and the gentleman assumed that it was a divine will that the virgin should remain in ‘El Viejo’. The good man therefore decided to leave the image and to depart without it.
The celebration of ‘La Purísima’, according to ancient documents, was born in the city of León at the beginnings of the 18th century. Monks of the San Francisco convent were attracting children and believers with caramels and fruits to sing to the virgin. Too many people came to sing, and the monks suggested to the assistants to start celebrating the singings and prayers to the virgin inside people’s houses. The tradition spread to Granada and Masaya, and then to the rest of Nicaragua.
According to information of catholic organizations in Nicaragua, ‘La Gritería’ began in 1857 when Monsignor Giordano Carranza recommended believers to shout the phrase “the purest conception of Maria!” from house to house, throughout León:.The tradition spread and soon some composers created the canticles that are used nowadays.
We would like to thank the PR Department of INTUR for facilitating several photos.